Board members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland gathered Monday night to celebrate 50 years of service to the youth of Bradley County.
President Shane Lawson welcomed the board members to the 50th annual meeting before Matt Ryerson, president and CEO of the United Way of Bradley County, delivered the surprise of the night.
He awarded the Col. Jim Tucker Service Award to BGCC Executive Director Charlie Sutton.
“The United Way & Boys and Girls Clubs have a tradition of strong partnership,” Ryerson later commented. “Jim was a model of that spirit of partnership, and Charlie embraces that same spirit today.”
Continued Ryerson, “So, in the tradition of partnership in the 50th year of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland, and in the award being named after the a Boys & Girls Clubs legend and mentor to so many, it was only fitting to select Charlie as the Jim Tucker Award recipient in 2014.”
Sutton was shocked.
He described the experience as surreal.
According to the agenda, Ryerson was not supposed to be on the stage.
“What in the world is going on here?” Sutton thought to himself. As Ryerson made it clear Sutton was the recipient of the award, Sutton could not believe it.
“I was having a real hard time holding it together — emotionally,” Sutton later recalled. “It was so unexpected, particularly on this night. Who would have thought that would happen?”
The award is normally presented at the United Way of Bradley County Annual Meeting to a local nonprofit leader with a similar spirit of service exemplified by Tucker.
Sutton described the award as an awesome honor, especially in light of its namesake.
He has spent the last 20-plus years encouraging the community to aid the local club.
“What we are trying to do is rally the community around the lives of these children,” Sutton said before adding he could not help the young members alone. “The best I can do is help the community see the need and not drive by it.”
Continued Sutton, “A lot of times we drive by the Wildwood area and don’t even notice there are kids there. They are hungry and they are struggling. This has all been about engaging the community more.”
Entertainment and speakers 2014 local Youth of the Year winner Clifton Bidwell and 2010 national Youth of the Year finalist Maria Hernandez reminded board members the good their hard work accomplishes.
“Are you willing to ask your friends and colleagues to invest in my future?” one young member asked from the stage. “Am I worth that to you?”
All four girls on stage looked out over the gathered guests and asked, “Are we worth it?”
Board members, staff and community members responded, “Yes.”
Lawson and Sutton took to the stage to explain the club’s Formula for Impact and the work completed over the last year.
The formula consists of two main parts. The first is young people who need the club the most. The second is an outcome-driven club experience consisting of the key elements for positive youth development, high-yield activities, targeted programs and regular attendance. The goal is to create priority outcomes for academic success, good character and citizenship and healthy lifestyles.
“We provide opportunities with high expectations, and we have some of the greatest supporting relationships these kids could ever have, both from our board and from our staff,” Sutton said. “We are really so excited and so blessed to see our kids aspiring to greatness.”
Members have found academic success through the aid of staff and the STRIDE Adaptive Technology utilized at the units. The program notes the strengths and skills gaps of each child. Tailored lessons equip students with the knowledge needed to reach the next level.
According to statistics provided by the club, members have seen growth in mathematics probability, English Language usage and overall science. Growth scores include: math’s 43 percent in 2012 compared to 2013’s 58 percent; English’s 54 percent in 2012 compared to 2013’s 62 percent; and science’s 31 percent in 2012 compared to 2013’s 68 percent.
Lawson and Sutton thanked the board members and community for their continued support of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland. According to reports, funding for 2013’s $1,488,948 budget came from seven areas: government, 48 percent; United Way, 24 percent; fundraisers, 12 percent; foundations, 8 percent; program fees, 5 percent; individuals, 2 percent; and other, 1 percent.
Both planned gifts and individual giving increased between 2012 and 2013. Planned gifts and future expected income totaled $110,000 in the years 2009-12 and $200,000 in 2013. Individual giving in 2013 increased substantially to $25,835 from 2012’s $9,574.
Hernandez spoke on behalf of the 2,042 club members served in 2013 at the seven club locations in Bradley and Polk counties.
“It has now been 11 years since I started attending the club, and to be honest, I am still amazed at where I am today,” Hernandez said. “Time and time again, I get asked by my peers on campus, or students I talk to at school, ‘How’d you do it?’”
People ask Hernandez how she can see life in a positive way in spite of the obstacles thrown in her way.
Her answer is simple.
“You see, my Boys & Girls Club saw something I couldn’t,” Hernandez said. “They saw the real me and everything I was capable of doing, even when I had no clue who I was or what I could do.”
Despite the absence of her father and the abuse of her stepfather, Hernandez found the hardest mountain to overcome, “was truly believing I was someone capable of being great, and that I was someone of great worth.”
She said her club genuinely believed in her.
“It wasn’t just the staff, it was the board members, my peers at the club and all those who invested in my life, by either donating or being a part of my Boys & Girls Club journey,” Hernandez said. “... Just like all of the board members who come every month to work — not only to make our club a better place, but to help create opportunities for us to become successful.”