By Bonnie Gibson
A couple of weeks ago, someone asked me why I've chosen to stay on as an employee of the Boys & Girls Club of Henderson County for more than 15 years now. I believe it is the grace of God.
My position there has changed over the years, but my love for what we do has not. I am often thought of as the “mother” to our club staff and children. After all these years, that title has become “grandmother.”
For me, the club is my other home, one with lots of love and fun, and difficult times, and great joy. A place where I can share what I know: the love I have for kids. It's where I get choked up from the pride that I feel when I see them strive, achieve and thrive in the world.
I know the needs of children at our Boys & Girls Club. They are looking for people who will help counsel, nurture, love and share their lives with them. I know this because I was that child!
My father was an alcoholic and mostly absent from our lives. My parents didn't talk to each other and I don't remember hearing my father speak. We had a silent house. I don't remember any hugs or kisses, no “I love yous.” Mom sewed our clothes and made sure we had food, but she was emotionally drained.
My oldest brother turned to drugs. My sister, Sherry, started working as soon as she could so she wouldn't have to be at home. She married one week after she graduated from high school.
I graduated from high school myself, got pregnant, married and moved to North Carolina. My sister says I ran away, and in a way I did. But over and over again in my life, I found myself running toward children.
Initially my work with children began with my own, but it grew and grew. When my two youngest children were teens, I was asked to become a foster parent. That child was the first of more than 20 children who lived in my house over the next 10 years. Some short term, some long term. I adopted two of them. Now, I have 11 grandchildren and counting. What grace!
Looking back today, I realize that if there had been a Boys & Girls Club when I was a child, that I might have had better self-esteem. I might have gone to college after high school. I might have learned to make good choices. I might have learned that I had choices. I might have learned that there were people willing to help me.
But there wasn't a club for me when I was a kid. Fortunately I was blessed to have women, and sometimes men, throughout my life who were willing to teach, share and demonstrate the skills I was missing.
Most of the places I have worked, and even as a foster mother, everything was related to a crisis, picking up pieces of people's lives and learning to start again. I kept thinking that there have to be easier ways to live. Now I know that this is true. At the club, I get to help make things easier. My work is about hope. This is why I stay.
At our Boys & Girls Club, it is not about simply surviving. It's about thriving. It is about prevention, not intervention. My goal for our members, our kids, is that they feel like they belong. They know they are of value. They matter. And that they are loved. That is grace.