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Support is promised for youth program

(ran PW, PC editions)

Community leaders say they'll pull strings and twist arms to keep the East Pasco Boys and Girls Club open.

A small but determined group of community and business leaders has pledged to bring the financially strapped East Pasco Boys and Girls Club back from the brink of closure.

At an emergency meeting on Tuesday, supporters promised to round up enough donations to save the struggling club, threatened with closure recently after it began losing more than $5,000 a month. And they brainstormed long-term fundraising ideas for the club, which has been subsidized for months by donations from west Pasco.

Set in the middle of a Lacoochee housing project, the east unit of the Boys and Girls Club serves more than 100 of the poorest children in Pasco, many of whom pay their $5 dues in pennies or work it off by sweeping floors and picking up trash.

For the club to survive, it will need ongoing support from throughout east Pasco _ something that has been lacking in recent years, organizers said. The club was plagued by difficulties during its short stay at the American Legion building in Dade City. It moved to Lacoochee two years ago after the county offered club leaders a rent-free building.

"By helping Lacoochee, we are helping Dade City and all of east Pasco," said Louis Abraham, a longtime real estate broker and Dade City promoter. "The idea of doing something out there for the kids that doesn't involve stealing and killing intrigues me. We have enough brainpower among us to do this."

About a dozen people turned out for the emergency meeting at Adrian's Restaurant in downtown Dade City after learning of the club's troubles. Though small, the group vowed to call upon connections in the community, including the Rotary Club, chambers of commerce and church and civic organizations.

The Boys and Girls Club estimates that it will need between $50,000 and $75,000 a year to keep the Lacoochee club alive. The club's board of directors, all from west Pasco, voted in December to close the east Pasco unit in March if donations did not pick up considerably before then.

"That is not a lot of amount of money considering all the ways this club benefits the entire community in terms of prevention," said Kathy Bell, director of Healthy Families, an outreach group for at-risk mothers. "I think this community can certainly rise to the occasion and do what needs to be done."

Among the fundraising ideas being considered is a sponsorship program that would allow donors to adopt a club member by paying $10 a month or more. The kids would be encouraged to help with the fundraising effort by writing letters of thanks to sponsors.

The club has found support from state Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who has said he would seek a $100,000 appropriation for the club this legislative session.

The group also wants to boost awareness of the club's activities by hosting a booth at the Pasco County Fair, Sparklebration and other community events. Seeking corporate sponsorships and donated billboard space also were discussed.

"I think there are probably a lot of people in this community who do not even realize we have a Boys and Girls Club here," said David West of the Dade City Chamber of Commerce. "If we as a community can raise $200,000 for a chamber building, I think we can come up with something for the Boys and Girls Club."