BY KARISSA MILLER
Board of Directors Chair Ray Englebert welcomed hundreds of community members to the Boys & Girls of the Piedmont’s annual Celebrate Our Kids luncheon on Thursday.
“We truly are thankful to each and every one of you. Now, with over 330 club members and a waiting list, we can’t do this work alone,” he said. “It takes all of us to love and care for these children who need us most.”
Englebert said that it has been 20 years since the tragic death of seven Statesville teens in a car crash.
“Out of that tragedy, this community decided to provide a safe space for children, a space where our children could learn and grow. It was then that the Boys & Girls Club of the Piedmont was born,” he explained.
Local families wanted to do something for the community. They began organizing an annual “Take Back Our Families” event each June. The event encourages and teaches parents to be involved in their children’s lives.
He asked the crowd to stand while he read the names of the Statesville Seven:
♦ Antoinette Griffin, 13
♦ Antonio Miller, 13
♦ David Wayne Summers, 14
♦ Dominique Hurt, 15
♦ John Lindsey Myers Jr, 15
♦ Erica D. Stevenson, 15
♦ Quentin Maurice Reed, 18
Youth of the Year
Statesville High School student Ameia Blair-Morrison has learned a lot about navigating her emotions and how to be a leader through the Boys & Girls Club of the Piedmont.
Blair-Morrison, the club’s youth of the tear, addressed hundreds of community members on Thursday afternoon at the luncheon.
“Growing up, I was raised by a single mom while my father was incarcerated. This critically affected my emotional and mental health. I felt angry and abandoned,” she recalled.
She joined the Boys & Girls Club in 2014, but admits that she wasn’t able to be herself because she felt stigmatized by having an incarnated parent. However, her mentors in the club saw it as an opportunity for her to help others.
Soon, she became involved with working with younger club members as a junior staff member. She also participated in Healthy Habits and Abby Winthrop SMART Girls program.
“I learned leadership skills such as being accountable and courageous. My experiences helped others see their potential despite like circumstances,” she said.
Blair-Morrison has now been accepted into eight colleges so far and is a member of the SHS Lady Greyhounds basketball team. But she said her proudest accomplishment is representing Boys & Girls Club youth.
Speaker Niyin Miller, a Pfeiffer University student and former club member, spoke about the positive impact the club had on his future.
“My plan is to return home in May and become a history teacher within the Iredell-Statesville Schools system,” he said.
He was a member for 10 years and has worked the past four years as a staff member.
“This incredible journey has instilled in me the passion to become a teacher,” Miller said.
He said he was able to forge meaningful relationships with others and grow as a person and a leader.
“The Boys & Girls Club is not merely a building, but a sanctuary for dreams and aspirations,” Miller said. “It’s a place where young hearts, once shy and uncertain, find their voice, their courage and their path in life. My journey in these walls have been nothing more than remarkable.
“Little did I know that this place would ignite a flame within me,” he added.
Keynote speaker Tonya Reid, a community support specialist with Iredell-Statesville Schools, said that working with families and children is a challenging role.
“It hurts my heart. It saddens my soul to see the state our children are in today,” she said.
If they are to be the leaders of tomorrow, she added, the community must help them.
“It is said it starts at home. What are we going to do with the home piece?” Reid said. “Today, so often, so many children are raised in a way that when they grow up into adults, they will have to recover from their childhood.
She said that an absent parent, unstable families, trauma and many other factors hinder children’s growth and development.
Reid praised the Boys & Girls Club for providing structure, supervision, academic support, STEM activities, hot meals and character and leadership skills.
“A lot has been done and a lot is to be done. We may not be able to see the impact of the Boys & Girls Club, but let’s keep this this going,” she said, thanking the staff and community supporters for caring about the children.
The event included special performances by the chorus, a dance ensemble, drum line and slideshow presentation.