Boys and Girls Club

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 18, 2009

Jayla Andrews, 7, (left) and Kristina Tabor, 8, listen intently as Boys and Girls Club director Dennis Hoskins explains club rules. The girls were among the 135 children registered to participate in the Boys and Girls Club of Batesville, which opened for the fall program Monday. The Panolian photo by Rita Howell

After drastic cuts, Boys and Girls could close doors

By Rita Howell

Sitting on the cool, smooth concrete floor, finishing up their punch and chips, giggling and squirming a little, nearly 120 children give their attention to Dennis Hoskins who roams the center of the big circle, welcoming the kids on Monday to the first day of the fall program of the Boys and Girls Club of Batesville.

Hoskins explains the rules, introduces executive director Belinda Morris, and then leads the group in a hand-clapping game.

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“Gimme five,” Hoskins says.

The children respond with five quick claps.

For 11 years, local children have had the opportunity to respond to the encouragement, mentoring, tutoring and possibilities offered by the local chapter of this national non-profit organization. But this year’s opening was delayed until mid-September because of cuts in state and federal funding for the program. Supporters of the club are concerned for its future.

The Boys and Girls Club of Northwest Mississippi, headquartered in the old National Guard Armory in Batesville, also operates clubs in Sardis and Crenshaw.

The clubs serve about 225 children after school each day, offering snacks, a daily “power hour” for homework, a computer lab, arts and crafts, sports and recreation, and even dance lessons.

In all, last year 1,500 children were served by programs sponsored by the Boys and Girls Club of Northwest Mississippi, according to Marlon Coleman of Batesville, who serves on the organization’s board of directors.

The club has always operated on a tight budget, relying on volunteers to help run the daily activities, and depending on fund-raisers and local donations and contributions from local government to fund about two-thirds of the $300,000 yearly budget.

State and federal funding this year will total about $50,000, down from $105,000, Coleman said, meaning the already stretched budget is about to reach the breaking point.

The state and federal funding isn’t received on a lump-sum payment, but is prorated throughout the year.

“As of now we have only received enough funding to remain open through October,” Coleman said. That includes a $10,000 donation received this summer from GE, whose employees and company executives also repainted the interior of the club building and refurbished the playground.

Supporters of the club are currently scrambling to arrange a fund-raiser early next month to keep the club’s doors open. A rummage sale is planned for Saturday, October 3 from 6 a.m. until noon in the parking lot of First Security Bank’s main branch. They will gladly accept donations of clothes, toys, furniture, appliances and other usable items and will arrange for pick-up if the donors call 578-7309.

Coleman is hoping that a reliable source of funding can be developed with the help of area churches.

“We are asking every church to pledge $100 per month for 12 months,” he said.