Sluggish economy is hurting our kids

If you haven’t heard already, you will soon learn that youth-serving organizations around the nation have reduced costs, cut staff and, in some cities, closed sites.

In this tight economy, we are all feeling the hardships, but no one is affected more than our children. Children are our future, and they will shape it based on their successes or their failures.

It is up to all of us to ensure they are prepared to succeed. We must ensure they make the right decisions to stay in school, make healthy life choices, feel confident and are challenged to overcome adversity.

Not all children have the benefit of positive influences and not all families have the ability to provide monetary or emotional support. But all children — even those teetering on the brink of failure — have the ability to overcome obstacles and become the next teacher, CEO or Boys & Girls Club director.

I’ve seen first-hand how influential a Boys & Girls Club can be in a child’s life. I’ve seen one child after another turn from troubled and suffering in school to caring, positive and a successful student.

Someone there pushed them, cared for them and helped them through difficult times in their life. They changed because their Boys & Girls Club believed in them — and all those who supported it made that change possible.

Take Marion for example. She lost her mother at a young age. Instead of turning to negative influences to deal with her emotions, she turned to the club. Marion says her club provided her the extra family support she needed. She developed leadership skills and learned the importance of community and giving back. The College Bound program prepared her for life beyond high school. Marion says, “When I walk into this club, the love I get here is very overwhelming. What the club means to me — is success.”

Like Marion, thousands of kids are changed, and sometimes even saved by their club. As a board member, I’m amazed that an organization as established and well-known as the Boys & Girls Club could be such a well-kept secret.

Here in Atlanta, many organizations are suffering. Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta is not immune to the economic pinch most businesses and families are feeling today. The organization had to cut full-time staff by 12 percent, reduce full-time salaries by 5 percent and make operational changes in hopes to reduce expenses by $2 million over the next year.

While these changes are difficult, our No. 1 priority is the 17,000 children we serve. We are dedicated to ensuring the services provided in all 30 clubs are not changed. We are not trimming our “core programs” that focus on education, academic assistance, positive character development and healthy life choices. The programs offered are the solution for positive youth development.

We are working hard to meet the economic challenges but need caring people to help. Boys & Girls Clubs have a direct economic impact on your community by reducing crime rates, dropout rates, unemployment rates and teen pregnancies. Our kids succeed because we invest in them, no matter their background or circumstances.

BGCMA is your local resource to invest in our children. We all believe in a better future. Let’s start with the children — there is no better investment in humanity, in tomorrow and in the decades to come.

C. Scott Greene is chairman of the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta.