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Local Boys and Girls Club in good shape, leader says

The Boys and Girls Club of Lincoln County is financially securefor 2009 and not threatened by funding shortages that could closethree other clubs in the Jackson area, said board of directorspresident Bobby Bell.

The local club operates independently – free of the nationalorganization – and draws all of its approximately $34,000 annualbudget from local sources, Bell said. The Jackson-area clubsoperate under the Boys and Girls Club of Central Mississippi, partof the national organization, and need to raise $500,000 by May tocontinue serving 3,200 children, according to recent newsreports.

“We’re where we are every year,” Bell said. “I’m not sayingwe’re not running a tight budget – we run a tight budget everyyear. We’re used to it.”

Bell said the club’s annual budget is mainly comprised of an$18,000 contribution from the United Way of Lincoln County and a$16,000 allotment from the Brookhaven Housing Authority. Smallerdonations from other organizations add to the total, he said.

The United Way normally gives $20,000, Bell said, but tougheconomic times are projected to shorten that amount by $2,000.

The local club needs less because it has less, Bell said. Hesaid the Jackson-area clubs in danger operate larger facilities andstaffs and require higher maintenance than Lincoln County’s, whichoperates with very few amenities.

The local club’s most prized possession is its building onSecond Street, which was saved from near complete deteriorationlast year by a complete renovation funded through a $307,000federal grant secured by county officials.

Other than that, the Lincoln County club uses only desks andchairs to sit children for after-school tutoring during theweek.

“My main priority is a safe haven for kids – I don’t want themto be home by themselves,” Bell said. “Then, we try to educate themas our second task. The third thing is teaching them good valuesand trying to show them how important it is to give back to thecommunity.”

The slightly decreased budget this year should not present anyproblems for the club, Bell said. But when such problems havearisen in the past, the club has dealt with them in a unique waythat likely only works in such a child-centered program.

When money runs critically short, employees simply are not paid,Bell said.

“If you’re not dedicated to helping kids, you’re not gonna workat this club because we don’t pay enough,” Bell said. “Basically,we’re just paying you what we can afford to pay. Fortunately, Ihave those types of employees. Money is not the main reason theyare here.”

The Lincoln County club is a former member of the centralMississippi organization, but the board decided to strike out onits own years ago to avoid paying high salaries to employeesrequired under national guidelines. Bell, who works for the clubfor free, has often argued that high salaries should not benecessary for those with genuine concern for the community.

“All my employees started out being volunteers and showedgeneral concern to work with kids before being hired as anemployee,” he said.