Rita Howell’s Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Funding cuts hurt Boys and Girls Club

My daily route takes me past the Boys and Girls Club at the corner of Eureka and Highway 51 South. Late in the afternoon, when I am on my way home,?I often marvel at the energy being expended on the playground and ball field at a time of day when all I want to do is go put my feet up.

My job also takes me inside that old olive drab armory building which has been transformed now to serve children in this afterschool program. The energy level seems to intensify when confined within those now-blue walls.

The Batesville club serves 163 children ages 8-18, offering sports, computer labs, tutoring and other positive, kid-friendly activities during the school year, plus a month-long summer day camp.

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Joining the Batesville club under the umbrella of the Boys and Girls Club of North Mississippi are the Sardis/Como B & G Club and the Crenshaw B & G Club. In all 278?Panola County children are currently enrolled in the three clubs which are managed from the Batesville office.

Membership is free to the children.

But somebody has to pay for the services offered.

Up until now, much of the funding has come through the state attorney general’s office which allocates what the state legislature budgeted for the approximately 30 B & G Clubs across the state.

Recently–and unexpectedly–funding was decreased at the state level and the local club is not getting what had been anticipated.

The cut was from around $10,000 to about $5,500 per month. The club’s small nestegg of savings is quickly being depleted.

Combined monthly expenditures average about $14,000 for the three clubs, according to B & G board member Lygunnah Bean. Included in that budget are salaries for 17 employees who run the clubs according to the strict guidelines of the National Boys and Girls Clubs. The rules call for regular financial audits, which the local club passed last year with flying colors.

With funding cut, the program’s executive director, Belinda Morris, has been scrambling to make ends meet.

A hastily produced fish fry a few weeks ago enjoyed support from hungry Friday noonday customers who contributed $3,500. An upcoming cheesecake sale could help the organization meet its obligations to the kids through December.

And even though individual donations have this year exceeded last year’s, the shortfall in government support will shortly affect the program and cause cutbacks if a solution isn’t found soon.

“We’re serving more children for less money,” B & G board member Sledge Taylor told me.

An anticipated contribution of $35,000 from the federal Office of Justice Programs is hovering on the horizon, but the club’s directors don’t know how much of that they’ll actually get or when it will come.

Morris attended a meeting last week with state officials and representatives from other Boys and Girls Clubs in the state to get answers to their “how much?” and “when?” questions. For the short term, the money is still held up, she told me Monday.

In the meantime, Morris told me, “we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got.”

If you’d like to make a contribution or order a cheesecake for $20, call the Boys and Girls Club in Batesville at 578-7309.

Our community needs to respond quickly to help maintain this valuable program for our children.