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200 miles or bust!

Dedicated supporters bike to raise funds for the Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro

BRATTLEBORO—Riders, eight of them in all, will bike 200 miles between Derby Line and Brattleboro on July 17 and 18 to raise $16,000 for the Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro.

The group will follow Route 5 for most of the journey with a stopover in Bradford.

Riders cover their own expenses, allowing every dollar donated to go to the Boys & Girls Club, which serves more than 1,200 members and more than 3,000 non-member area youth.

“Truly 100 percent goes toward the project,” says Dr. Robert Nassau, president of the Boys & Girls Club board.

The club experienced a budget shortfall this fiscal year after an annual — and necessary — source of federal funding fell through.

Along with fundraising, Nassau, who practiced pediatrics from 1971 to 2004, is participating in the ride in honor of his 70th birthday.

He says riding 100 miles in one day does not worry him. It’s getting up the next morning and pedaling another 100 miles that concerns him.

But, he adds, one fun thing about riding with a team is not going it alone.

Of the eight riders, four are directly connected to the club: Nassau, fellow board members Sandy Garland and Christopher Chapman, and Mike Marchand, program director at the club’s unit at the Westgate Housing Community.

“The Boys & Girls Club has become very close to my heart,” says Nassau.

Nassau says he first became involved with the club after he retired. He didn’t know much about the club but knew the tough situations some of his young patients came from — patients who needed support from such a place.

He describes the club as “a safe place for kids to be.”

“It’s not babysitting. It’s being engaged either physically or mentally through programs. I really believe in this organization as an institution,” says Nassau. 

Nassau invited the other four community members — Jim Robinson, Kathryn Karmen, John Bentley, and Jim Sweitzer — because he knew they enjoyed long rides.

“It was very heartwarming to me how they became committed to the event, not just as a fun bike ride but as a way to support the Boys & Girls Club,” says Nassau.

In the process of preparing for the ride, however, they learned about the club and what it offered area youth.

“I was only vaguely aware of the Brattleboro Boys & Girls Club,” Karmen says. “My focus was the ride; raising money for this local cause was merely a nice add-on.”

“However, at our first meeting I was so moved as I listened to some of the staff describe their work that I made a 180-degree shift,” she added.

“A community reaching out in a positive way to its at-risk children creates a healthier and safer world for all. Only the school system serves more youth than the club,” says Robinson, an area resident for 38 years.

“It made sense to get involved after work hours,” says Marchand, calling this year his “rookie season” for completing a long-distance ride.

Marchand, who decided to participate in the ride because he enjoys bike riding and being physically active, says he is dedicated to working with area youth because of the tough financial situation so many nonprofits find themselves in this year.

He says biking is the easier part of the undertaking. The fundraising intimidates him.

He linked the riders’ fundraising page to his Facebook page but found more donations came through as a result of sending  personal letters.

Marchand looks forward to riding with “the team” and says it has been fun getting to know other community members passionate about the club’s mission.

“It may not be the biggest fundraiser [the club does], but I think we’re doing quite well,”  Marchand says.

Nassau says that as a former pediatrician, he sees the Boys & Girls Club as preventative medicine.

He hears people in the town talking about “the young people hanging out at the Transportation Center.” He often parks in the Transportation Center, walks past the kids hanging out, and then walks into the club on Flat Street.

“[The club] is full of kids,” he says. “These are the kids not hanging out at the Transportation Center.”

Nassau sees the club as one factor in helping prepare kids to be responsible citizens.

According to him, mentoring has contributed to the members’ 100 percent graduation rate and their zero pregnancy rate.

“A lot of kinds are let down by the adults in their lives in one way or another or had no adult to turn to. The [club] staff fill the adult role,” he says.

Nassau sees the club as one factor in helping prepare kids to be responsible citizens.

According to him, mentoring has contributed to the members’ 100 percent graduation rate and their zero pregnancy rate.

“A lot of kinds are let down by the adults in their lives in one way or another or had no adult to turn to. The [club] staff fill the adult role,” he says.

Open to all

““I have the best job ever,” says Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro Executive Director Beth Baldwin-Page, who says the Club is open to anyone under 19-years old.

“People think it’s just a place for kids to hang out,” she says.

But, she adds, the Club offers more thorough programming, providing homework help and teaching life skills like budgeting.

A national nonprofit Boys & Girls Clubs of America, based in Atlanta, provides support and develops programs for a network of 4,000 independent local clubs nationwide.

Brattleboro is the only local club that also boasts an indoor skate park, which draws youth from Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

Club members can also participate in leadership clubs and community service projects. Recently, members assisted with the Strolling of the Heifers weekend. Other members volunteer in area nursing homes and for the Windham County Humane Association.

“[The kids] are amazing,” says Baldwin-Page. “I have the best job ever.”

She says part of the kids’ willingness to participate in the community comes from their relationships with and connections to club staff, who engage in the kids’ lives in a positive and supportive way.

Of the 1,200 club members, 40 percent live in Brattleboro and 60 percent are from the surrounding area. Brattleboro youth make up about 50 percent of the 3,000 non-members utilizing the club.

The club received $150,000 in federal funds, less than previous fiscal years. That leaves their budget short for programming and mentoring, service that comprise 90 percent of what the club provides.

According to Baldwin-Page, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America receives grants from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Drug Abuse Prevention (OJJDP). These funds are distributed to local Clubs to support various mentoring programs.

The past fiscal year, the Boys & Girls Club of America “encouraged” local clubs to apply for federal stimulus funds, less than what the OJJDP awards, to help retain staff.

The stimulus funds came with the limitation that they could only be used for job retention.

But the OJJDP then decided to use the mentoring funds for other things, says Baldwin-Page. That has left Clubs nationwide short on mentoring funds.

The riders have raised $13,600 of the local Club’s $16,000 shortfall.

Nassau says donors have been “generous” and he is hoping more donations will help the riders meet or exceed their $16,000 target.

All donations are tax deductible and can be to the team as a whole or toward individual riders. Community members wishing to make donations can either send a check or donate online.

Donors wishing to support the riders can write a check to the “Boys & Girls Club” and putting “The Ride” or a specific rider’s name in the memo line.

Checks can be mailed to the Boys & Girls Club at 17 Flat St., Brattleboro, VT 05301. Donating by check saves the club the Internet processing fee.

To donate online, go to www.firstgiving.com/6065/.

For more information about the club and the “Going the Distance Ride,” call 802-254-5990 or visit the club’s website, www.bgcbrattleboro.com.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #57 (Wednesday, July 7, 2010).

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