By Charles Hallman
A locally based restaurant chain recently raised money for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to help support its youth sports and other related programs. Headquartered in Minneapolis, Buffalo Wild Wings donated 100 percent of the money raised from “paper pinups” purchases by patrons for its Team Up for Kids initiative, which provided at least $650,000 in grants to clubs across the country.
The monies raised at more than 930 restaurants across 49 states was donated to help support youth sports, education, and training for administrators and volunteer coaches.
“It’s ironic that Buffalo Wild Wings reached out to us,” notes Minneapolis’ Southside Village Director Mark Graves. “Right before they reached out to us, we were struggling trying to figure out either how we would buy up-to-date helmets or
“The grant money we received from Buffalo Wild Wings has helped purchase helmets and some jerseys,” says Graves, adding that nearly 65 kids participated in the park’s football program,
which has three teams and one “fundamental flag football” team.
Graves has been with Southside Village for 23 years. He says the four-year-old youth football program was started by a group of neighborhood men.
“These guys came in and brought a lot of substance and creditability to what we are trying to do,” he explains. “During those four years, three different age groups have been served.”
During this span the program has won three city championships and two runners-up finishes, but according to Graves, “It’s not about winning and losing. I’m proud of their success, but the main thing is we are keeping these young people grounded off the streets. They know that they have a safe place to go and have got positive role models all around them. Even if they get out of hand, they know that we don’t give up on them.”
Sharing space inside Phelps Park at 39th Street and Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis, Southside Village Boys & Girls Club is open eight hours a day, five days a week. But the club is about more than just sports.
“Our average daily attendance per day is 105 kids, both boys and girls. Our goal is 140,” says Graves, who credits local pastor Jim Harbour for his vision to transform the club into a neighborhood youth village. “Pastor Jim had this vision on how we could bring our neighborhood together. He came to me and we were able to work out the different kinks.”
“We have kids who have different interests,” continues Graves, who has been involved with the Boys & Girls Club for over 20 years. “We don’t turn any kid away.”
“The Boys & Girls Club has been a part of my life for as far back as I can remember,” admits Jason McGinley, a Southside Village volunteer coach. He’s a second-generation club member — as a youth, McGinley says he won a couple of college scholarships.
“I think it’s different for every kid,” McGinley points out. “Some come here for activities, some for shelter and day care. Some come for food [meals are served nightly]. Some come for [the various club activities]. But I think they all come here because it is a safe environment. It is a place where they can come and get both constructive criticism and praise.”
Eleven-year-old Craig McDonald is a third-generation club member. He says playing football helps him learn the importance of teamwork, determination and work ethic. “I want to go to college and play [football], then the NFL, or play professionally in a sport and do well in school,” says the three-sport young man — McDonald also plays basketball and baseball.
The seventh-grade A-student at Field School says his favorite subjects are language arts and science. “I like to do experiments, put stuff together and take things apart.”
“We only charge five dollars per year for everything,” states Graves. “We never charge the children or the families for things we do here. I don’t think you can find any other youth-serving organization that does as much as we do and only charges five dollars.
“No, I don’t think our story is being told well enough,” he says. “We offer our kids tutoring and homework help. We do leadership work. We volunteer at different homeless shelters. I don’t think a lot of people really understand and know really how much Boys & Girls Clubs do.
“We’re in the schools and in the homes. We’re talking with parents. A lot of times parents will call us to talk to their children. I really wish that I could get more individuals to come out to a building like ours so the kids could see them,” says Graves.
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