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VOL. 133 | NO. 90 | Friday, May 4, 2018

Dan Conaway

Dan Conaway

Our Kids are Drowning

Dan Conaway

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LIFELINE. Almost 40 years ago, I was on the first board of the Ira Samelson Jr. Boys & Girls Club down the street from Treadwell School. We had taken over a YMCA that had a pool – the first pool in the club system. We brought kids in from all over the city to learn to swim, to keep from drowning if they got in deep water.

In Memphis, that’s not a metaphor.

I learned more about my city playing pingpong, eight ball and horse with the kids at that club than I have in countless boardrooms since. I saw lives changed and hope found in single moments, in the sudden discovery of self-worth.

I saw kids swim for the first time.

Some of the kids at Samelson you may know – kids that met and became friends there, grew there, and will tell you today what being there meant – kids like Penny Hardaway, Elliot Perry and Chris Garner.

After the University of Memphis and his pro basketball career in the NBA and Europe, Chris Garner came back to Samelson to give back as program director, and has now taken over as club director at the Boys & Girls Club at Craigmont High School in the Raleigh-Frayser area.

If you google – a verb now – Craigmont, headlines over the last couple of years include:

“Boy, 14 shot near Craigmont High School in Memphis”

“Parents, students brawl at Craigmont High over social media post”

“Bond Set For Students In Craigmont High Bombs Case”

They’re drowning at Craigmont and Chris is jumping in the pool, because that’s what he learned at the Boys & Girls Club.

Opening just last October, the club already has 420 members with about 130 there every day. These are some of the programs: Power Hour (homework assistance), mentoring, club tech, SMART Moves and Street Smarts (gang and drug resistance training), SMART Girls, Passport to Manhood, and athletics. Workforce development includes soft skills (resume writing, interview techniques, college prep, etc.), cosmetology, culinary arts, logistics, welding, automotive and IT.

Outside of school with nowhere positive to go, nothing good to do, thousands of our kids are drowning in our streets. Recent estimates set the number of young people in Memphis between 16 and 24 who are not in school and not working at about 22,000 and the public support cost at about $14,000 each year for each one.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis are a proven lifeline for thousands of kids and have been for decades, yet the Shelby County Commission only funded the Craigmont Club for one year. Without further support from the commission or Shelby County Schools, the club goes dark on July 1.

We should be partnering with the Boys & Girls Clubs in more schools and more places after school, not less. We should fund proven programs for years, not months. We should teach, not scold. Save, not watch.

Just ask Penny, Elliot and Chris.

I’m a Memphian, and we can save our kids from drowning.

Dan Conaway, a communication strategist and author of “I’m a Memphian,” can be reached at dan@wakesomebodyup.com.

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