December opening eyed for Boys, Girls Club

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By Cindy Simpson

A Boys and Girls Club opening in Roane County may be as close as mid-December, but organizers need community support.
The Roane County Boys and Girls Club Unit Advisory Board is kicking off a Founders’ Campaign at the Hooray for Harriman Labor Day Festival.
However, anyone can donate now or in the future.
“All funds raised from the Founders’ Campaign stays right here in Roane County,” said board chairman Mike Dishman. “We are ready. I cannot wait to cut a ribbon.”
With an after-school program well established and successful in the elementary schools, club leaders started looking at what age group needed the most attention.
“There is not much after school activities if you don’t play sports,” Dishman said. “There are not a lot of tutoring programs and so forth. That is sort of our vision to start with middle school age and move forward.”
Drug use often starts in middle school, and reaching that age group before it is too late is something the group wants to do.
“The mission of the Boys and Girls Club is to empower at-risk children to make wise and educated life choices,” said a news release from the club.
Sarah Stevenson, with the Roane County Anti-drug Coalition, said the coalition did a survey in 2011 indicating when drug and other substances are first tried.
“According to a student survey administered in 2011 the age of onset in Roane County for alcohol is 12.9; marijuana 13.3; and tobacco 12.5,” she said.
“The age of onset has increased for all three substances since 2004, which is encouraging,” Stevenson added.
Both Rockwood and Harriman middle schools were considered for club locations.
Organizers decided they needed to start smaller and chose to start at Harriman Middle School before expanding into the other communities.
Dishman said school officials have been overwhelmingly supportive, but Harriman Middle Principal David Stevens has really pushed that his school needs the program.
With approval from Director of Schools Gary Aytes, Stevens — who is a board member for the Roane program — offered use of his school.
“We plan to expand quickly in those surrounding areas,” said Charlene Hipsher,  also a board memeber and an employee with the District Attorney General’s office.
Dishman agreed.
“We have got to make sure the county knows it isn’t just a Harriman thing. It is just that — a pilot program to reach the rest of the county,” he said.
Organizers see the club as a great way to give young people something to do and keep youth from falling into the trap of substance abuse and other negative behaviors.
“We started doing needs assessments and surveys. Statistically, we have drug issues here. The way to solve that is to change the mindset of the kids for the next generation,” said Hipsher.
Area leaders want to reverse jail overcrowding, crime and other trends by investing in local youth.
Hipsher said Sheriff Jack Stockton, District Attorney Russell Johnson and Harriman Mayor Chris Mason in particular are rallying for a club for that reason.
Roane County Sheriff’s Office officials said it costs from $40-$50 a day to house an inmate. It costs roughly $500 a year for a child to attend the Boys and Girls Club, which reflects overhead. Individual fees are $15 a year.
“Nobody is turned away for a lack of $15,” Dishman said.
Stevenson said she’d encourage parents who can easily afford the fee to consider not just paying theirs but donating the fee for another child.
Roane County Anti-Drug Coalition’s members have been big advocates for a Boys and Girls Club, and one of its original goals when forming in 2003 was to establish a club.
Donations can be made to the Boys and Girls Club at P.O. Box 280, Kingston TN 37763.
The Boys and Girls Club will operate under guidance of the Boys and Girls Club of the Clinch Valley
Other board members include Chris Ayers, Willie Gallaher, Johnson, Chasity Lowery, Mason, Stevenson, Stockton, Ralph Best, Roane County Highway Superintendent Dennis Ferguson, Harriman Police Chief Randy Heidle, Marie Iannetta, Karen Joseph, Phillip Martin, David Reichle and Rockwood Police Chief Danny Wright, who also serves on the Roane County Board of Education.