Laurel Boys & Girls Club site of massive volunteer effort

By Tony E. Windsor

The Boys & Girls Club in Laurel was a hub of activity on Friday, Jan. 11, as a visit from Delaware Gov. Jack Markell highlighted a special statewide volunteer initiative. Well over 125 volunteers poured into the former Army National Guard building on Central Avenue, equipped with paint and paint brushes, hammers and nails, and a desire to provide service to the local young people who come to the building each day.

Markell told volunteers that he is happy that he brings his efforts to places like the Laurel Boys & Girls Club where "energy and enthusiasm are needed more than skill." Despite his light-hearted comments regarding his skills as a painter, Markell spent the lion's share of his time standing on a ledge while painting the wall of the Boys & Girls Club gymnasium.

George Krupanski, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware, praised the efforts of the large group of volunteers and expressed how important volunteer efforts are in a time when non-profit budgets are tight. He went on to tell a story about leaving his work place in Wilmington one day feeling tired from a long work day. "I was heading to my car tired and frustrated from having spent another 12-hour work day," he said. "As I walked along I saw then Treasury Secretary Jack Markell heading into the Boys & Girls Club. He told me he was volunteering after work to help teach kids as part of a financial literacy class. I will never forget that night and the impact it had on me."

In his comments Markell shared his wife's passion for Boys & Girls Clubs throughout Delaware. First Lady Carla Markell had planned to be in attendance for Friday's event in Laurel but the Governor said she was suffering from a case of laryngitis, brought on by overuse of her voice during the many stops she has made across Delaware to promote the "Week of Volunteer Service" in the state.

"If anyone should be standing up here it is Carla," he said. "She is such a big supporter of the work being done by George Krupanski and the men and women of Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware." Markell said as part of this year's inaugural activities, contributions made in excess of $25 will be used to support "Project Renewal," which is an effort to support Boys & Girls Clubs throughout Delaware.

Four years ago at the start of his first term, Markell opted to have a statewide week of service effort instead of holding an Inaugural Ball. He told the audience that he learned a lot from that first endeavor. "We had young people who came from really challenging backgrounds and up to that point had been on the receiving end of service," he said. "They painted community centers and they sent letters to our troops. For the first time in their lives they realized that there were people who had needs even greater than their own. They understood the power of what it can do for you when you help other people. They were able to realize the true meaning of service to others."

The Governor was joined in Laurel by his entire Cabinet and a large number of his administrative staff. Markell said the efforts of so many Delawareans to embrace the service to others mantra has resulted in national statistics showing that Delaware was recently recognized as having the highest rate of volunteerism in comparison to every other state in the nation.

However, he urged those in attendance to not make the volunteer effort more than one day or a week.

"It is clear to me as governor and certainly those who serve in the legislature that government cannot do it alone," he said. "We are in fact a state of neighbors. The way we define ourselves is by helping each other when we have the ability and when there are those who have the need. That is what this effort is all about."

Also in attendance for the Laurel Boys & Girls Club service event was John Hollis, representative of Nemours Health and Prevention Services and a legislative lobbyist. Hollis is spearheading an effort to revitalize the Boys & Girls Clubs in Seaford and Laurel. He felt the event was "the perfect marriage" of his project and the Governor's promotion of volunteer service.

Hollis has networked in conjunction with Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware and developed an ad hoc committee of leaders representing business, service, and faith-based organizations, many of which were on hand during Friday's activities. Hollis was the organizer of a similar grassroots effort about 20 years ago that resulted in the building of a new Boys & Girls Club on Virginia Avenue in Seaford and opening of the Laurel Boys & Girls Club at the former armory building.

Addressing the community leaders who attended the event and have committed to serving on what he calls the "E2 (E-squared - Energize and Encourage) committee, Hollis praised their willingness to help young people. "This is an extraordinarily caring and impressive group that we have assembled here this morning," he said.

"Many of the people here today joined us in the efforts of 20 years ago when the Boys & Girls Club was built in Seaford. When that club opened there was an almost immediate reduction in juvenile complaints. Since then hundreds of kids have been served in this club and the club in Seaford. It has been a wonderful journey, but it is time to revitalize."

Among the organizations on hand to lend volunteer work to give the Laurel Boys & Girls Club a facelift were members of the Town of Laurel, under the coordination of Councilwoman Robin Fisher and Councilman Don Phillips. Mayor John Shwed opened the day's activities with a welcome address.

Sussex Habitat for Humanity was also providing support for the project with volunteers from several states who have committed to Habitat for Humanity projects as part of the AmeriCorps program. In addition, several members of "Sparkle," a part of The Salvation Army's Developmental Disabilities Program located in Millsboro, were painting and providing hands on volunteer efforts.

Groups or individuals interested in supporting the volunteer effort to support the Laurel Boys & Girls Club can visit to see a "wish list" of items needed by the facility.

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