Neandra Turner, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Abbeville, has made the organization’s four expectations a mantra.
“Be respectful. Be responsible. Be safe. Be great. I tell our kids all the time, if you do these things, you can conquer the world,” she says.
It sounds simple enough. But Turner knows it’s anything but. For many of the kids who spend time at the club, there are hurdles that can make following that handful of instructions difficult.
“If they didn’t have the club and all it gives them – the access to computers and internet they have to have now for school, the tutoring help, the other learning and growth opportunities, the friendships and the overall support – I don’t know what they would do. It really is essential for a lot of these kids,” Turner says. “Supporting our area kids in their education was what drove our founding and is still key now.”
Today, the Boys & Girls Club of Abbeville provides a safe and positive space for about 150 kids. With after-school and summer programs teaching everything from leadership principles and photography skills to yoga and a range of sports, it provides the coaching and resources necessary for their development into self-reliant, responsible, contributing members of the community.
The club’s summer program reaches kids in first through eighth grades, and its after-school program is open to students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Both programs strive to boost self-esteem, which is at the core of the club’s mission. Of course, there’s always a focus on fun – it’s a kids’ club, after all – but participation in activities and classes like newspaper club, talent shows, art projects, board games, sports teams and more also instills kids with some crucial knowledge.
They learn they are competent, possess a powerful and influential voice, make useful and valuable contributions and have a place where they belong. Together, these feelings build confidence. And confident kids can push through obstacles to reach their potential. “We just want these kids to grow up and become productive citizens, to have character, and we give them the means and a real chance to do that,” Turner says.
While the summer and after-school programs aim for the same goals with similar activities and opportunities, in the after-school program, ensuring homework and studying are complete and successful is a priority.
Tutoring is always available, but in a tech-heavy world, access to computers and high-speed internet is just as important, as Turner stresses. “They do their homework here, and we can give assistance with that. A lot of our parents really need that as much as the kids because when they get home from work, they may be exhausted or maybe they’re not in a position to explain things, like the way math is today,” she says. “Our computers are vital since schools do so much with technology. And, of course, last year with virtual school due to the pandemic, that only increased.”
Considering the critical role that computer resources play, when the club’s aging laptops and tablets started “acting up,” Turner knew it was a problem.
“We had older computers given to us years back, and we appreciated them, but they had gotten out of date,” she says. “They weren’t working correctly and even when they did work, they couldn’t do some of the tasks, and that really frustrated the kids. Plus, they really need that computer time.”
It’s why Turner calls the tech grant bestowed by the Alabama Power Foundation in 2020 an “amazing blessing.” The funds were used to purchase 20 Chromebooks and a wireless printer. All of the laptops came loaded with useful software, like Microsoft Office and more. “Many of our kids use Google Classroom for their schoolwork, and now they can quickly and efficiently do that here thanks to these computers,” Turner says.
For those who’ve never done without the latest and greatest devices, the significance of a working laptop may not resonate. But Turner sees the dynamic difference made every day at the club. And not just through technology.
For one young lady, a little time spent with a sewing machine and a caring volunteer instructor was the anchor stitch in an ongoing entrepreneurial thread.
“One of our students started our sewing classes a few years ago and got really into it, making skirts, scarves and mittens,” Turner says. “During quarantine, she turned those skills – learned and sharpened here – into a business.”
With some additional lessons picked up from YouTube, she began making and selling trendy stacked pants. She also offered hemming and other tailoring services. “She altered a lot of our seniors’ prom dresses,” Turner says.
Now, she’s passing on her passion. “She is a sophomore and is on our junior staff, and she’s teaching our sewing program. She started coming here in fourth grade, and she’s matured into this incredibly independent young woman,” Turner says.
It’s only one of many success stories Turner has witnessed, stories that continue to unfurl beyond the club’s doors.
“When you start young and teach these kids what they need to thrive, no matter what they pursue – sports, arts, academics – they can attain those goals, and that benefits the entire community,” she says. “If we can spark a light in them that catches fire … that’s what we want to do. And our community sees it. They say, ‘I remember that little guy singing in show choir at Boys & Girls Club and now look at him excelling in college or opening a business’ or whatever it is.
“The most rewarding thing is seeing the kids I’ve watched since kindergarten and seeing them do well,” she says. “And then, having them come back, grown up, and tell us we gave them a chance, we taught them a valuable lesson, we gave them an opportunity – that’s the amazing part. I just love it.”
This story is part of a series about nonprofits aided by the Alabama Power Foundation, based on the foundation’s 2020 Annual Report, “At the Point of Change.” Read stories about The King’s Canvas, Red Door Kitchen, CORE, ¡HICA!, Children’s Harbor and CHOICE.