SPRING HILL — Little kids scampered from their marble games and puzzles and huddled in front of the camera.
They wouldn't fully grasp the concept of the $5,000 check-passing for which they gathered at the Boys & Girls Club of Hernando County, but they knew that money plays a part in enabling their fun and learning.
Representing the Florida Bankers Association, Bud Stalnaker of Centennial Bank last week presented the check to the club's operations director, Connie Cordell, who said the money will help ensure the club's latest dream — that every child who enrolls in the new Boys & Girls Club at Eastside Elementary School in Hill 'n Dale will take part for free.
Launched with the opening of the school year, the site becomes the seventh across the county for the club, which has its local headquarters adjacent to Westside Elementary School in Spring Hill. The club currently provides for 1,300 members countywide.
Its stated mission: "to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens." Programs include education, leadership, health, arts and physical fitness.
Eastside students have been underserved in many respects, Cordell said. More than 70 percent of the student population qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches.
"These children need a fun, safe place they can go without the worry of what it will cost," Cordell wrote in seeking the award.
The cash prize was one of 10 the bankers association awarded as part of its Bank on My Dream project, which garnered 70 entries statewide. Judging was based on achievability of the dream, its compelling nature and creativity.
When the Boys & Girls Club broached the idea of a center in Hill 'n Dale, Cordell said, the principal at Eastside acknowledged that neighborhood children had no place to gather for organized activities.
The club, for ages 5 and older, will provide a safe environment in which to play, pursue academic success, build character, develop leadership and learn about community involvement, Cordell said.
The number of children who will enroll isn't yet known. "The phones have not stopped ringing" since the plans were revealed, she said.
Initially, four adult employees will staff the site. Parents are asked to volunteer. Volunteers also are being sought among neighborhood teens, who can earn community service hours toward high school graduation.
In accepting the check from Stalnaker, Cordell said, "Eastside was really meant to have somebody to care for them, so this is a good start."
Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]