By Todd Cohen
RALEIGH, N.C. — Every weekday after school, five refurbished school buses and an activity bus stop at 11 Wake County public schools, pick up 500 students ages six to 18, and drive them to the seven facilities of the Boys and Girls Clubs in Wake County.
Once they arrive and get settled, the children and teens spend 45 minutes to an hour or more doing homework under the eye of part-time staff and volunteers.
Then they visit art rooms, computer labs, game rooms or gyms, and take part in programs to build citizenship and leadership and foster healthy lifestyles through physical activity, good nutrition and lessons in steering clear of drugs and alcohol. In a new program, kids at the Club’s Raleigh Boulevard campus get after-school meals.
The kids take part in public-service projects that aim to give them hands-on practice in what they are learning about citizenship and leadership. In partnership with Trees Across Raleigh, for example, Club members plant trees in public parks and along streets. To celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday, some Club members traveled to Chapel Hill to read to pre-schoolers.
“All our Clubs have the expectation that kids will give back,” says Ralph Capps, president and CEO of the Wake clubs.
Two-thirds of Club members, who pay $7.50 a year for a membership, are eligible for free or reduced-cost meals at school. Nearly 70 percent are African American and 15 percent are Hispanic.
“One of the founding principles of Boys and Girls Cubs is you serve those young people who need us most,” Capps says.
If needed, members can pay their $7.50 dues in installments or do volunteer work at the Clubs if they cannot afford the dues.
“In our entire 50 years,” Capps says, “we’ve never cut services to kids, we’ve never closed a Club without first building its replacement, and we’ve always respected the principle of low membership dues and not tried to balance the budget on the backs of our families.”
The Wake Clubs, with nearly 5,000 members, operate with an annual budget of $3.2 million, 26 full-time employees, including three former Club members, and 75 to 80 part-time employees, including several former Club members. And it counts on about 450 volunteers to help provide programs.
Many of its members “need a positive role model in their lives,” says Capps, who has headed the Wake Clubs for 43 years. “Many need an environment where they are expected to do their best.”
The Clubs generate income through an annual campaign that this year aims to raise $925,000, plus foundation grants and program sponsorships totaling another $925,000, and two special events, including a fall breakfast featuring a local sports celebrity, and an spring art auction for young professionals.
It recently completed a capital campaign that raised $12 million to help serve another 2,000 young people, and already has added half of those new members. To help serve the remaining 1,000, it likely will add an eighth facility.
As part of its 50th anniversary celebration, in addition to the annual campaign it launched in February, the Clubs aim to raise $1 million for new initiatives.
One likely will involve creation of a “nutrition hub” at the Teen Center on its Raleigh Boulevard campus. The hub might include features such as gardens to generate revenue or serve the community, a culinary arts program for teens, and nutrition education for parents.
When Capps became executive director of the Boys Club of Wake County in January 1973 after beginning his career in 1967 as physical education director for a Boys Club in Chattanooga, Tenn., the Raleigh clubhouse operated in a church on East Lane Street near downtown.
When it started, it was one of the first Boys and Girls Clubs in the South that opened its doors to both black and white children on the same day, Capps says.
In June 1978, it moved the Club to Raleigh Boulevard, and opened a Club that now is for boys and girls in Wake Forest in 1986, a Girls Club on Glascock Street in 1988 that moved to Raleigh Boulevard in 1992, and Boys and Girls Clubs in Zebulon in 1996, at Washington Elementary School in 1999, and in Raleigh’s Brentwood neighborhood in 2006 — serving mainly Hispanic children — as well as a Teen Center in 2007, initially in rented space at Alliance Medical Ministry before moving to Raleigh Boulevard in 2014.
Capps estimates the Wake Clubs have had 25,000 members during his tenure.
“There are many, many kids whose lives we’ve changed,” he says, “and some whose lives we’ve saved.”