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VIDEO: Ribbon cut for local Boys and Girls Club

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Though the former Jordye Bacon Elementary School has been home to the Boys and Girls Club’s program and activities for several months, Friday’s event was a watershed moment for the club, officials pointed out.

The club officially became the Liberty County unit of the Savannah-based Frank Callen Boys and Girls Club on Friday, with many local and Boys and Girls Club officials and many of the club’s members on hand.

“This is a day we have been planning for for quite some time,” said John Brooks, chairman of the Frank Callen Boys and Girls Club.

Brooks and many others said the club coming to Liberty County was a result of Edna Walthour’s driving force.

“If you know Mrs. Walthour,” Brooks said, “you know the kind of tenacity she has. She said to me in a very matter of fact way I want a Boys and Girls Club in Liberty County. We’re here today because of that meeting five years ago. She was relentless.”

“A pit bull ain’t got nothing on her,” said state Rep. Al Williams (D-Midway). “But this is a great thing. I’m excited about it.”

Brooks also said Friday’s event is not the end for the Frank Callen Boys and Girls Club. The club is looking at expanding to Midway and Walthourville.

Hinesville Mayor Allen Brown said it has taken endurance and perseverance for the club to get to Friday’s official ribbon cutting.

“Children deserve a safe, fun and educational place to go during the summer and after school,” he said. “I’m proud to be standing here at the home of the Frank Callen Boys and Girls Club Liberty County unit. It’s been a tough job to get here. “

Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette said Friday’s official ribbon cutting made him think of the foundations laid by such people as William Golden and Rev. Floyd Snelson.

“We can’t have MLK be the only dreamer,” he said of the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “We appreciate what this facility will do to turn out more dreamers.”

Mark Lindsay, CEO of the Frank Callen Boys and Girls Club, said there are plans to expand into Effingham and Bryan counties and said he himself is a product of the Boys and Girls Club. The Liberty County unit will have a workforce development program.

“We’re producing national champions, astronauts, doctors, lawyers,” Lindsay said. “We want to be a place where these kids learn and grow.”

Liberty County Schools Superintendent Dr. Franklin Perry recalled Walthour coming to his office and pleading for his help.

“At the time, we had Head Start in this building. We didn’t have anything else available,” Dr. Perry said.

But Head Start moved into a new building in Riceboro, consolidating its locations, and that made Jordye Bacon Elementary available.

The Frank Callen Boys and Girls Club started in 1917, and is the oldest Boys and Girls Club in the state. A probation officer, Callen wanted to start something that would help young men in the city be more productive members of the society.

“They’ve gone on to become caring and productive citizens,” Brooks said of the club’s history of members. “That is our mission. That is what we expect will happen here. I have no doubt that that mission of caring, productive citizens will permeate the Liberty County organization.”

Williams said he also looked forward to the club helping put more young people on the right path.

“It is exciting to see this really take off,” he said. “This club has a monumental task and there is plenty of work to do. Far too many people are in the system now because they didn’t have a Boys and Girls Club. The jails are far too full and I hope this becomes another tool in the toolkit to turn things around.”

Graduates of the Frank Callen Boys and Girls Club have posted top scores in math and reading, Brooks pointed out.

“Our members have an expectation of being able to come to some place that is safe, where they can have fun, enjoy their relationships with their friends and with the staff,” he said. “We have to make that happen. They’re doing wonderful things but they’re caring, productive citizens. That’s what we’re looking for when the day is done.”

With the help of donors, the Liberty County unit has gotten its start. It needs more to keep its mission going, Williams pointed out.

“I have a saying — it takes coal to run a train and gold to run a campaign. We need gold to make it happen,” he said. “The board has done its part. It’s up to us to carry it over by contributing like we can.”

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Boys and Girls Club board of directors and officials and other community members cut the ribbon on the official Liberty County unit of the Frank Callen. Photo by Pat Donahue.
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Boys and girls of the Liberty County unit of the Frank Callen Boys and Girls Club sing “We Are the World.” Photo by Pat Donahue.