Kawanna Hinton grew up in Lancaster, Pa., and was the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year in 1994. After moving to Chambersburg four years ago and realizing there was no club, she began talking to community leaders about starting one.
"I noticed crime and pregnancy rates are high in this area. I felt the boys and girls need something to participate in year-round," Hinton, 27, said.
She said the Boys & Girls Club played an important role in sending her to college, including tuition assistance.
She spent 13 months researching and finally getting the organization, which is an extension of the Boys & Girls Club of Central Pennsylvania, off the ground.
Bennett, who has a lengthy history with the Boys & Girls Club, including working at the center in Hagerstown, got involved in August.
Its 15-member board includes community leaders, former athletes and people like Hinton who simply want to see an alternative activity for youths.
The organization serves youths between the ages of 6 and 18. Bennett said he is hoping to have a membership of 300, and expects more than 100 to show up on a daily basis.
Annual dues are $10 per child.
"It's affordable because we want the kids here. They get a membership card and it gives them a feeling they belong, a feeling of ownership," Bennett said.
The club's permanent quarters will be in the Franklin County Housing Authority, which put up a $20,000 donation and is renovating the space. But to take advantage of a $25,000 grant from the national headquarters, Bennett said, the club had to open somewhere in January.
He said he hopes community response will be strong enough to warrant keeping both sites open once the housing authority space on Washington Street is ready in April.
The club has six core programs, including: Personal and educational development; citizenship and leadership development; cultural enrichment; health and physical education; social recreation and outdoor and environmental education.
Bennett said that means computer education and homework tutoring will be integral parts, as well as community service, sports and arts and crafts.
There are also prevention programs that will address alcohol, tobacco, drugs and teen pregnancy, he said.
Bennett and two paid staff members supplemented by volunteers will operate the club on an open-door policy.
"We don't force kids to participate in any programs. The magic of it is once kids get in here and develop a relationship with the staff, the kids want to be here," Bennett said.
Hinton said that at age 14 she sought out the Boys & Girls Club for the attention she lacked as the third of five children in a single-parent household.
She said the club helped her stay focused on graduating from high school and college.
"I honestly am not sure where I'd be if I hadn't gotten involved. I'm the only one of my close friends that went to college and graduated," Hinton said.
Dan Fisher, president of D.L. Martin in Greencastle, Pa., and a Boys & Girls Club board member, said as the father of two teenage boys and a volunteer with the Greencastle-Antrim Baseball-Softball Association, he knows first-hand the challenges of parenting.
"I feel more than ever there is a lot of pressure on parents. Even if you are a traditional family unit, there is still a lot of pressure," he said. "More often two parents are working or it's a single-family home."
Fisher said the club's $120,000 operating budget must come from fund-raising, grants and donations. In addition to monetary donations, the club could use everything from computers to board games to a 15-passenger van.
Chambersburg clubhouse hours are Monday through Friday, 3 to 8:30 p.m. On days schools are closed the club will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on half-days it will be open from 1 to 7 p.m.
For more information or to register, call Bennett at 717-263-3393.