When two buses pull up to the front of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Marion County’s Ocala location, Stan Creel opens the front door to let two converging lines of half-running children into the building.
“Walk please! You will all get to sign in,” the chief professional officer smiles and repeats to the excited kids, “slow down.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Marion County is in its 49th year, and Stan has already seen its impact on many kids’ lives. It all started for him when he was growing up on a “dead-end street in the forest.” Stan’s dad was left homeless at 17 years old, so Stan’s father was all about being there for his kids, as well as the kids in the neighborhood. Kids were over at his house all the time. The rule of the house was work before play so all the kids pitched in to help with chores before playing games.
“It was kind of a little Boys & Girls Club,” Stan says.
Stan has worked with youth for about 13 years now. He coached soccer and worked in Ocala’s Recreation and Parks Department until he was approached by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Marion County to take on the leadership position there. He picked up the same interest his dad had and says he could see the need.
When Stan took on his position at the Club, he had his goals in order. No. 1 on his list: It’s always about serving the kids. There are five core program areas at the Club, all available to the students to help them grow and develop properly: Education & Career; Character & Leadership; Health & Life Skills; The Arts; and Sports, Fitness & Recreation. All of these programs help the kids develop essential skills, while the staff provides the support needed for the kids to succeed.
“Kids need love and encouragement,” Stan says. “They don’t recognize the opportunities. The Club can pull that veil away.”
Stan also says that kids need a minimum of five positive influences in their lives and that about 52 percent of parents are single moms, 5 percent are single dads and 9 percent are grandparents and foster parents. That’s why he, his staff and volunteers are so vital in these kids’ lives.
“I see the kids as much as possible and get to the other sites when I can,” Stan says. “I love doing it.”
There are three club locations in Marion County—Ocala, Dunnellon and Silver Springs Shores. Kids ages 6 through 18 can become members. The annual membership runs from June to June, and parents just need to register their kids and pay a yearly fee to get them involved. Parents also have the option to sign kids up for transportation to the Club from school.
“We don’t turn parents or children away for their inability to pay,” Stan says. “We work to find a way to help them.”
Stan is always working on funding to upgrade the facility and provide the best for his kids. The Club is run on donations, grants and fundraisers. In fact, they finished up their first Great Futures Annual Campaign in November with a goal to raise $200,000 to help with the necessary aspects of running the Club. At the beginning of the year, the Club ran another campaign to raise money to renovate the gymnasium. The plans for the gym will be implemented soon, and that’s just one of the many projects Stan has in mind.
The teen center stretches out from the administration office in the back. A computer lab is the first room in the center, and Stan hopes to update it in the future.
“I want to work with the kids to upgrade this room and give it more of a coffee-shop feel,” he says.
The lab connects to a large, open room with couches and pool tables. It’s the perfect space for teens to hang out and play games in. There’s also an impressive weight room and fitness facility that was donated to the Club. Stan believes it’s important for teens to be able to relax through different activities—it makes it easier for them to get to know other teens and the Club’s staff.
Next door, the gymnasium is attached to another building that houses classrooms and activities for the younger kids. There’s one child sitting at a computer doing his math homework. Passing by, Stan says these computers come in handy for many of the kids. They can complete and print off their homework for the next day or just get some extra studying in.
“I can’t express to you the importance of the Boys & Girls Club,” Stan says.
And because of it, Stan continues to see a difference in the lives of many kids.
Learn more › Boys & Girls Clubs of Marion County › 800 SW 12th Ave., Ocala › bgcofmarion.com or (352) 690-7440