Boys & Girls Club still eyes Loudon

Vicky Newman-News-Herald

For several years, the Boys & Girls Club of Loudon County has been searching for a suitable site in Loudon for a satellite club location.

Of the club's 433 participants, only 37 at present are from Loudon, but that is something the club's board of directors would like to change.

Dean Deatherage, executive director, said a Loudon club is needed and is at the top of the board's wish list.

"We have lots of interest," Deatherage said. "I have fielded many calls from parents and kids who want to come. Some come during the summer, and they love our staff and love the program, but when school starts, it is not feasible."

The club's buses visit six city and county schools in Lenoir City and transport members to the club at 201 N. B St. in Lenoir City for after-school programs. "It's too much distance to service Loudon schools," Deatherage said. "We're definitely looking for a place in Loudon, whether it is acquired or purchased, a free standing club with everything traditional or a shared space."

Boys & Girls Clubs traditionally offer programs with some playground and green space area or a gym for kids to get exercise. The club has teaching rooms for learning games, homework, arts and crafts, music rooms, teen centers and other approved activities.

In an age when many children are "latchkey kids," home alone and unsupervised after school, the club is a positive place, Deatherage said.

"A lot of stuff now can reach out and grab kids, even through the Internet," Deatherage said. "Boys & Girls Clubs offer a safe environment. The kids can exercise and stay out of trouble, and they are more than twice as likely to graduate."

Tammy Lane, board president, said several Loudon sites have been considered and inspected as possible locations in recent years. None so far have been suitable or economically feasible. Lane is from the Loudon area and a strong advocate for a Loudon club site.

She said the organization needs to build its Loudon membership base before committing to a major capital campaign for a permanent site.

"Ideally, we would love to find a shared space, in a Loudon school or possibly a church," Lane said. "Last month, Boys & Girls Clubs of Tennessee Valley started a program partnering with a church in Knoxville for after-school. So, now we will have a model. We may be able to get churches interested in Loudon if we can show how it works in another county."

Club membership has grown each year and currently serves 435 members, with an average daily attendance of 114, Deatherage said.

"It is incredible the support we get," Deatherage said. "We always say the kids are voting with their feet. When they come back here, it means they believe in the program. It is meeting a need."

Club locations in the Tennessee Valley include one school and four public housing communities, three teen centers, nine free standing clubs, the Richard L. Bean Detention Center and the Gene Monday Gym. The clubs are open every day after school and provide care all day during summer months, school holidays and in-service days.

"We are confident we will find a place for a Loudon program," Deatherage said.

Loudon County Trustee Chip Miller, who was involved in the beginning of the reorganization of the old Boys Club, said the club had been started years before by a Lenoir City High School science teacher.

"It had gotten to the point that they just met on Tuesdays for basketball at the (War) Memorial Building," Miller said. "Mr. (James "Jim") Herron was in his 80s, and it was not the environment the Boys & Girls Club wanted."

Several community leaders decided to reorganize, formed a new board and started a capital campaign. Through the efforts of former city schools superintendent Wayne Miller, the program was located at Lenoir City Elementary School for a time before permanently locating in the old Central United Methodist Church gym. The club purchased the entire church property, using the family life center for the boys and girls and leasing the sanctuary building to churches.

"That building turned out to be a really good purchase," Miller said. He rotated off the board for several years and just went back on in June. "When I came back on the board, I was told a Loudon facility is a priority project of the board."

The Loudon Utilities Board voted Aug. 26 to sponsor the Boys & Girls Club golf tournament fundraiser at the $2,000 silver sponsor level as in past years. However, board members discussed their desire to see a stronger club presence in Loudon. Less than 9 percent of club members live in the LUB service area.