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Leesburg club sets example for Citrus

Sometimes the best lessons are taught by peers.

That's one message that the directors of the Boys and Girl Clubs of Lake County try to stress with their 600-plus members.

"We tell them that this is your Boys and Girls Club," said Hugh Brown, the club's athletic director. When one child breaks a rule, if another enforces that rule, then both of them are learning something.

"The older kids, they act as junior counselors. .

.

. They kid with (the younger children) and play with them, sort of like a big brother," Brown explained. "The majority of our kids are from single parent families and that helps a lot."

In that secure setting, youngsters from Lake and Sumter counties experience positive peer pressure under the watchful eye of paid program directors who work with them in a host of athletic, social and educational activities.

This program, which was established in 1972, has been serving as a model for the organizers of the Citrus County Boys and Girls Club.

George Flowers, chairman of the Citrus group, toured the new clubhouse in Leesburg twice last week and hopes to take more interested Citrus residents and business people to see the facility.

The Leesburg club, which moved into its new clubhouse on 15 donated acres last May, offers a view of just what a Boys and Girls Club could offer to Citrus County's restless youths.

On the outskirts of Leesburg in a rural setting, the spacious 20,000-square-foot clubhouse offers a gym, game rooms, a learning center, arts and crafts rooms, a teen lounge and a concession stand in addition to offices and locker rooms.

The club serves as the starting point for field trips to skate, swim or bowl. Sometimes there are overnight stays, under the watchful eyes of the paid adult directors.

Some children are bused straight from school to the club, where they work with a part-time teacher or complete their homework in the learning center.

Others can play games or relax in the teen lounge with a bag of chips purchased with a special club "charge card" good only at the concession stand and only for certain parent-approved items.

The club is just getting started with a basketball program especially for the group's youngest members and plans include racquetball courts, a weightlifting room, tennis courts and a nature center.

Brown and program director Dewayne Deas say that the community has shown tremendous support in order to make the club possible. Literature published about the club shows that to be true through the statistics.

The annual budget of the organization is about $180,000 and $26,000 of that comes from United Way. The rest is raised through donations.

The average cost to the club to provide the activities for one child for one year is $300. The fees, which don't come close to covering that cost, are based both on the size of the family and the size of the family income and range from $2 per year to $25 per year.

Built by $1.2-million in donations, the Leesburg club in 1990 served 630 children. Of those, 311 were white, 296 were African-American and 23 were Hispanic, Asian or Native American. There were 383 male members and 341 females.

Most of the children came from low-income families: 5 percent of the families made under $4,000 salary annually, 36 percent fell between $4,000 and $8,000 per year, 33 percent between $8,000 and $12,000, 19 percent between $12,000 and $18,000 and 7 percent earned a salary more than $18,000 a year.

The directors say they are proud of what their community has done for the youngsters of Lake and Sumter counties.

"All this comes from the community of Leesburg. They built this club. Nobody came to us and said here's $1.2-million," Brown said. "It takes a lot of community support to get it kicked off and to keep it going, but the kids are there and it's for the kids."

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