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Local Boys and Girls Club opens second location

By Lynn J. Richardson

In answer to the need to serve more Carter County children, the Boys and Girls Club of Elizabethton/Carter County has opened a second Club site at the Christian Life Center of Hunter First Baptist Church on Highway 91 in Carter County.

The Hunter location welcomed dozens of Carter County school children on Monday (Sept. 21) and nothing could make David Whaley, music pastor and one of the elders at Hunter First Baptist, happier.

He has served as the liaison for the partnership between Hunter First Baptist and the BGCECC.

“I’ve known (Club CEO) Ginny (Wright) for a long time, and have had kids from our church that have gone through the Club, so I know what good work they do and what it means to kids in this community,” said Whaley.

He credits BGCECC Board Chair Bob Acuff with “putting the numbers together” that resulted in the agreement between the Club and the church.

“Bob came to us about a month and half ago,” Whaley said. “He is the one who sparked the conversation and led us to where we are now.”

The church’s 50-year-old Christian Life Center has been sitting empty lately, says Whaley, due to the pandemic. “It is just so good to see life in that building and kids coming in and out is exciting to us.”

His enthusiasm is shared by the leadership of Hunter First Baptist he says, with deacons, and members of the building and grounds committee all “thrilled” to serve the children of the community through the Boys and Girls Club.

“This also shows that the Boys and Girls Club isn’t just for the city kids but also for kids in the county,” Whaley said. “Right now, though this is temporary arrangement through the end of the year, there is a hope it could become a permanent location.

“But those are some conversations we need to have down the road,” he added

Acuff agrees wholeheartedly with Whaley, calling the partnership “a great opportunity to serve children in areas where we know there is a need,”

“It’s been a long range plan to get out into the county,” he added. “This partnership is a great chance to serve kids, particularly county kids, and to utilize a building no longer used because of the pandemic.”

“It’s an exciting time for kids in Carter County and for families who haven’t had an opportunity to come and be part of the Boys and Girls Club and all of the wonderful things it stands for. We are grateful to the folks at Hunter First Baptist. They have a real heart for this.”

The Club’s new location is currently serving 58 children, according to BGCECC CEO Ginny Wright, and is at capacity based on compliance with social distancing mandates. However once those restrictions are removed, Wright says, and if the Hunter partnership continues past the pandemic, the location could serve as many as 84 children based on physical space.

“We essentially cleared our waiting list, thanks to the opening of the Hunter location,” she said. “We added ten staff members for Hunter, a total of 13 staffers to be fully staffed at both locations.

It has been a trying time for all concerned, Wright says, but making some changes — both personal and organization — has been rewarding.

“When the pandemic hit, for about three weeks things were up in the air and I was driving myself crazy every day, wondering what the school situation was going to be,” Wright said. “When I finally started reacting to what the school systems were doing and embracing that situation, I became a lot happier.”

Wright also said the pandemic pushed the Club to move to a two-location model in order to serve families who had been waiting for assistance.

“Eventually we won’t be dealing with a pandemic situation,” Wright said. “City schools and many of our county schools can be served at Hudson Drive, while the Hunter location can be used to expand offerings to the Hunter and Unaka community.

“I think our organization has grown,” she added. “It has brought an already strong staff together as an even stronger team. We’ve learned so much. We’ve transformed the way we operate and that has presented growth opportunities.

“A lot of blessings have come from this.”