The Alton branch of the Boys and Girls Club was formed in 1990 as a way to reach young people in need and help them attain their full potential.
In the last 25 years, the organization has grown in size, scope and ambition.
“I want to commend our community,” Executive Director Al Womack said. “We would not be able to provide stability and instruction for these kids if not for the support of our community.
“We also have a terrific staff. We have paid program staff of about 12-17 people in any given year who also serve as mentors, and we run about 60 volunteers in a year.”
The group’s clubhouse is located at 115 Jefferson Avenue, attached to the Catholic Children’s Home (but not affiliated to the home). With a healthy mix of boys and girls (75 percent from single parent homes, many of whom are underprivileged), the club promotes interaction and diversity, physical and emotional security in a fun environment, and provides mentors to let the kids know they are valued, important and vital to the community.
“We also have a ‘power hour,’ where we assist with homework for one hour a day,” Womack said. “We hired some tutors, and it is really paying off when it comes to grades.”
The nationwide Boys and Girls Club of America organization was formed in 1860 to provide after-school programs for young people. Known as the Boys’ Clubs of America, it expanded to include girls as well in 1990. As of 2012, it has over 4,000 autonomous clubs throughout the country, servicing over 4 million children.
While primarily serving the Alton Community School District #11, the Alton club is not limited to that region and often reaches beyond those borders to work with kids from other areas, as long as they are between the ages of 6 and 18 and enrolled in school.
Programs include character and leadership development, education and career training (along with a computer center available for use), health and life skills, sports and fitness (with a gymnasium equipped for basketball, dodge ball, volleyball, kickball and more) and the Arts.
An annual membership fee of $10 includes all of the programs and services.
Many of the area’s most vital education leaders have served as president of the Boys and Girls Club over the years, including David Bartosiak, Jeanne Wuellner, Andy Scanlon and David Hayes. Dr. Ken Spells currently serves as president.
In 2015, the club has seen a nearly 15 percent increase in its membership (currently at approximately 1300 children) along with a 33 percent increase in daily attendance.
According to the club, children who participate are half as likely to use cigarettes and alcohol and three times less likely to become teen parents. Womack attributes these successes to a continual focus on the mission.
“I think people have more understanding of what we do, and we also have a wonderful, quality staff that relates to kids and make it fun and attractive,” he said. “If you talk to a former club member, you will see they heard the message and made a decision. Part of a youth development strategy includes giving kids a feeling of influence; they have a say in what activities we provide. It’s a win-win situation.”
Womack has served as Executive Director since 1997.
“I was working in the school district and was told to check out the club,” he said. “I opened the door to the club, saw all of the kids running around, and I knew I belonged here. I was reminded of myself at that age, and I knew this was where I was meant to be.”
The club also has a satellite location at Lewis and Clark Elementary School on Godfrey Road and an Alton Police Youth Camp at Camp Blackhawk in Dow. For more information, call (618) 462-6249 or visit bgcalton.org.
(Put this paragraph in italics to separate it from the rest of the article) A group of Eddie’s friends are raising their glasses and making a toast to Eddie by making a donation to the Alton Boys and Girls Club, his favorite charity. If you’d like to join us, any contribution would be appreciated and put to good use.