Fifteen-year-old Eddie Blevins walked into the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis Buckman Campus
and grabbed a basketball.
“I like to play basketball. It keeps me out of trouble instead of doing something negative," he said. “I like the way they run things [here], the way it’s structured and organized. It’s a good place to be."
There are two North Memphis area Boys & Girls Clubs, Buckman and the Promise Academy Hollywood location. Both offer much more than a gym, including homework help, life skills and character building, hot meals, and a store where students can 'shop' with club bucks earned with good behavior and upholding the clubs' four programming pillars.
Those pillars are: good character and citizenship, healthy lifestyles, career success, and academic success.
Ron Nelson is the site director for Buckman, where the club store is located. He is also a former club member. He joined in 1977 when the organization was still boys-only. He said he now sees the children of the kids he played with as a child.
Verdell Calhoun currently coaches basketball at the Buckman location and, like Nelson, was a club member in his youth.
“A lot of my friends now I met when I was 7, and we still cool now,” he said.
He knew as a young teenager than he wanted to work for the clubs as an adult. He aspired to be like his club mentor, Bernal E. Smith, Sr. The former Hickory Hill Club was renamed the Bernal E. Smith Sr. Club in his memory.
There are over 4,000 Boys & Girls Clubs of America locations nationwide. The Mid-South clubs have 5,112 members and 150 full- and part-time employees.
The Buckman Club
In the 1990s, Boys & Girls Clubs of America opened their clubs to children of all genders. Nelson and Calhoun said that over time, the organization has increased their number of club members and the number of programs offered.
Buckman is the only Mid-South club to offer the Kids' Cafe, which provides hot meals to all their club members.
“We’re the only club that feeds kids a hot meal five days a week,” said Nelson. “ It’s through the Mid-South food bank. We feed them from five to six [p.m.]”
The also focusing on service to community.
This year, Buckman's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Day of Service focused on their own building. It was thoroughly cleaned by 30-plus people including club members, their families, and neighbors.
“We touched up paint and cleaned the building out. We got rid of stuff we didn’t need,” said Nelson.
Last year, Buckman also hosted their 15th annual Thanksgiving dinner and 15th annual pancake breakfast. Over 200 people were fed at Thanksgiving and 160 enjoyed pancakes.
“Our board members come out, cook for them and pass out gifts. Each kid walks out of here with three to four gifts,” said Nelson.
The Buckman location has 220 members ranging in age from 6 to 18 with larger numbers in the summer. Nelson said busy parents will drop off their children with relatives in North Memphis who in turn take the kids to the Boys & Girls Club.
“We have a lot of grandmamas and great aunts that drop their kids off here. A lot of families still stay around here,” he said.
Verdell Calhoun, director of the Buckman Club, was a member of Boys & Girls Clubs during his youth. Today he mentors and coaches sports, including football. (Submitted)
The Promise Academy Hollywood Club
The Promise Academy Hollywood location has 210 members and counting. Their club members ranging from ages five to 11.
The Hollywood club's claim to fame is the Boys & Girls Clubs Store, which is open once a month to all club members who've earned Boys & Girls Clubs Bucks.
Clubs bucks are awarded for good behavior and exemplifying the club's core tenants.
“We have everything overpriced so they have to really earn the money for the store,” said the Hollywood Club's site director, Chantelle Bonds.
At the store, a pack of crayons costs $10.00 in club bucks. A Barbie doll is $30.00.
Hollywood also has a 'speeding' ticket program. Whenever a child misbehaves or is caught running inside, which the club calls 'speeding,' the club member receives a ticket.
“They pay that ticket before they can come to the store and use whatever is left,” said Bonds.
In 2019, former Buckman club member Zakiyah Walker placed third in state competition on the way to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America's National Youth of the Year Award. Since then she's earned a full scholarship to Howard University, and is currently studying abroad in France.
Related: Local teens to compete for Boys & Girls Clubs of America's National Youth of the Year award
LaStacia Cloyd was last year’s local Youth of The Year and is running again this year. She hopes to make it to the state competition and beyond.
Cloyd is 18 years-old and a senior at Central High School. She's been a member of the Buckman club for six years.
“LaStacia is bright and energetic,” said Nelson. “She knows what she wants in life. She likes rap and spoken word.”
To run for National Youth of The Year, the youth must have at least a 2.5 GPA.
“They must have good character, leadership, and good behavior. They need at least two years in the club,” said Nelson.