MILFORD — Hundreds of area kids depend on the Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan Valley to provide a safe place for them to play, learn and grow, and the success of the club's youth programming has not gone unnoticed.
On Thursday evening, the Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan Valley was named the 2014 Champion in Action by Citizens Bank and the New Hampshire Union Leader, and will receive a $35,000 unrestricted grant from the Citizens Bank Charitable Foundation to help continue the club's success in providing programs for kids.
"Simply stated, we change children's lives," said Susan Taylor, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club. With the $35,000 grant, the club can continue to provide a special place for kids, Taylor said.
The Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan Valley began as an effort by "a payroll clerk, a doughnut dunker, and a biker chick who wanted to keep their kids out of trouble," said Steve Desmarais, who has sat on the club's board of directors for 18 years.
From six kids playing together at the local Grange, to 20 kids waiting for the Howitzer to be moved out of the Milford Armory so that they could play basketball, the club has continued to move and grow through the efforts of local individuals, businesses and organizations, said Desmarais.
Since 2004, said founding board member Rich Lowney, the club has had its own home on Mont Vernon Street in Milford, and serves more than 900 kids. And with the Champions in Action award providing additional funding, volunteers, and publicity, the Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan Valley can extend its reach further.
Citizens Bank launched the Champions in Action award program in 2002 as part of its Citizens Helping Citizens Strengthen Communities program, according to President Joe Carelli. Working with local media outlets, the program seeks out organizations that enhance the quality of life in their communities, like the Boys & Girls Club, and provides them with grants, volunteer support and publicity. Since 2002, Citizens Bank has awarded $1 million in grants to 49 champions statewide, Carelli said. Champions in Action awards are given twice a year to nonprofits.
Citizens Bank partnered with the New Hampshire Union Leader in seeking candidates for the Champions in Action program, and a selection committee including representatives from the bank, the newspaper and the community reviewed the applications and selected the finalists.
At a ceremony Thursday evening, Carelli said the Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan Valley was honored with the Champions in Action award because of the focus the club puts on helping kids in the community from all walks of life.
"In the last three years, the organization has increased its membership by 60 percent and now serves nearly 900 children and teens," said Carelli. "The club has tripled the scope of its financial assistance and increased unrestricted donations by $100,000, providing greater access to its programs for low-income families."
Carelli also pointed to the success of the success of an organization coordinated by the Boys & Girls Club called Community Action for Safe Teens (CAST). In order to stem the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse among teens, CAST helps kids educate and advocate for themselves.
"CAST engages teens and adults working together to change the social norms around underage drinking and drug abuse," said Carelli. "This program gives teens a platform and a voice to get involved in a local community issue and make a difference."
In addition to the $35,000 grant, Carelli said that for six months, all 74 branches of Citizens Bank and 200 ATMs will have brochures celebrating the Boys & Girls Club of the Souhegan Valley, and the New Hampshire Union Leader will provide publicity as well as volunteer support to the club.
"I like what you guys are doing here," said Joe McQuaid, publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader. "We'd like to help you get the word out about all the good you're doing."
For more information, visit www.citizensbank.com/community/champions.