By Dawn Krebs
PORT ST. LUCIE - While the Boys & Girls Club of St. Lucie County has had a presence helping area youth for the past 18 years, recent economic challenges are threatening to close the doors of a clubhouse in Port St. Lucie.
"We've gotten some personal donations, but we're still looking for some major donors," said Jennifer Jock, marketing coordinator for the organization.
The Chuck Hill Unit, located at 198 N.W. Marion Ave., opened its doors about a year ago and currently has 150 members. There, youth participate in a variety of after-school programs.
"It costs our club $1,000 per child to keep them in our important programming for one year," said Norman Penner Jr., executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of St. Lucie County.
"Due to cuts in funding and an increasing need, we are facing a deficit that will cause our club to make cuts in programming and limit our reach to children at risk."
The Chuck Hill Unit was opened to directly serve the community, a neighborhood with low- to moderate-income families, as well as a heightened crime rate and gang activity.
The after-school program serves students ages 5 to 18. Membership to attend the clubhouse is based on the income levels of the family. Some of the areas inside the clubhouse include a weight room, art room, teen center, game room, homework area and even a performing arts stage.
In the education lab, computers are available for students to use to help with homework assignments. Outside, a sports field helps the children run off some energy.
The programs available for the students include Smart Moves, which teaches students how to avoid peer pressure, and Triple Play, where the students learn healthy eating habits.
The organization is looking to raise $150,000 by the end of the year to offset the costs of the newest clubhouse.
To help make the shortfall, Sheriff Ken Mascara and Port St. Lucie Councilman Jack Kelly have both agreed to shave their heads if the goal is met.
"I will gladly do it, and my mustache, too," said Councilman Kelly, who has been a board member for the organization since its inception 18 years ago.
"Our biggest asset in the county is our children. It's our best investment."