For $5, youths can buy a stake in Boys & Girls Club

August 08, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Five dollars will buy any boy or girl between the ages of 6 and 18 a yearlong membership in the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Boys & Girls Club.

Since programming costs the club $500 per child per year, the fee is more symbolic than anything.

"It's not my club. I just work here," Executive Director Stefani Pierson said. "That five dollars is kind of getting them to buy into it."

Pierson has found that after children hand over their annual membership fee, they feel they have a stake in the club's upkeep and future. It becomes their club, not simply the club.


That's important, Pierson said. There was a time not too long ago when few people wanted anything at all to do with the club.

Pierson was working as a Berkeley County assistant prosecutor when "the trouble" began. Glenn Stanley, the club's former interim director, was charged in August 2002 with embezzling club money. He was convicted after a two-day trial and sentenced last week to serve time in prison.

After Stanley was arrested, Pierson met with some of the club's board members and volunteered to write grant proposals.

Eventually, she became more and more involved and started working as the director in January.

Pierson has coached soccer and basketball and volunteered as a Big Sister.

"I've always wanted to do something with kids," she said.

She now is looking to the community for help, hoping businesses will want to help the club financially.

"I think people are now open to the idea and can see the picture of what it can be," Pierson said.

That openness was not without some work on Pierson's part.

"I spent a year of my life apologizing. Trying to mend fences that were broken," she said, referring to Stanley's arrest.

In need of repairs, money

The club's unassuming brick building on the corner of South Queen and John streets in Martinsburg is not much more assuming on the inside.

A former armory, some of the windows are broken. A new roof and furnace are needed. There is no air conditioning.

Paint on the walls is flaking in some areas, while it is wearing away on the floors. Asbestos needs to be removed, a new fire alarm system needs to be installed and doors need to be replaced.

"It's an old building and it needs love," Pierson said.

A new building would be nice, but the existing one has the advantage of being within walking distance of several schools.

"This is a great location. I would hate to lose this location," Pierson said, adding that about half of the club's members walk to it. "I would love a new building, but at this point we'd like to work with what we have."

Martinsburg City Council members agreed to give the club $25,000 to repair the roof and remove asbestos. Since acquiring estimates last summer, however, the price for putting on a new roof now has exceeded the city's offer.

Since the building is owned and located within the city, Pierson hopes council members will continue to help. The club pays the city $1 a year to rent the building.

On another funding front, club officials have started a "family and friends campaign," which asks that 100 friends each donate $100.

So far, about $4,000 has been raised.

Whatever anyone donates to the club, Pierson can tell them exactly how it was spent, right down to whether it was used to buy books for the club's library or computer disks. Salaries also consume a large portion of the club's annual budget.

The club's staff had to be tripled over the summer to meet a growing demand. It turns out there were a lot of children out there looking for something to do.

Plenty of activities

When the annual summer program began in 2003, 14 children showed up on the first day. Around 100 ended up participating, with 40 showing up on an average day.

This summer, 65 children showed up on the first day and the club had to cut enrollment off at 170.

Such high enrollment in the summer program, which ends Friday, came as a bit of a shock.

"It's a good problem to have," Pierson said.

Once school starts and the fall program begins, the club will be open from 2 to 7 p.m. When children start coming in at around 3 or 3:15, they'll be able to do what they want - shoot some pool, play games, hang out in the Teen Room or play basketball.

Members of the Torch and Keystone clubs will meet at 4 p.m. and decide what community service projects they want to tackle.

There's also a program strictly for young men, in which positive male role models speak to the group. A similar program is planned for young women.

Three-fourths of the children who attend the club could be considered economically disadvantaged.

Fifty-five percent are boys. Sixty percent of the members are black, 33 percent are white and 5 percent are Hispanic. Seventy percent come from a single-parent household, Pierson said.

The Herald-Mail Articles