Five years from now, Dalila Gonon, a fifth-grader at Lyman Hall Elementary School wants to own a car and a smartphone.
That’ what Dalila, 11, wrote down on paper as she and a room full of children her age learned about short- and long-term goals at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier on Memorial Park Drive.
“Close your eyes, imagine what you want to be doing five and 10 years from now,” instructor Kiara Mosley said.
Motivating and inspiring children at the Boys & Girls Clubs to visualize their potential is more than a job that pays the bills for the 27-year-old Mosley.
“I’m a club kid straight from Gainesville, Georgia,” Mosley said.
Mosley graduated with honors from Gainesville High School and completed undergraduate studies at Georgia State University. She’s finishing up a master’s in public administration at Brenau University, and her goal is to pursue a doctorate in organizational leadership.
From 2006-2016, more than 60 high school students who had gone through the Boys & Girls Clubs program graduated high school, said Steven Mickens, the clubs’ chief executive officer. Mickens said that’s more than 60 kids on the way to a productive life who will be contributing to the community instead of being a burden on society.
“We had a 100 percent high school graduation rate of our kids during that period,” he said.
Mickens said it costs approximately $90,000 a year to house one youngster in the juvenile criminal system. Multiplying the more than 60 grads who came through the Boys & Girls Clubs by $90,000, he figures that’s a return on investment of more than $5 million.
Growing up near Fair Street School, Mosley said she was 7 when she started going to the club’s after-school program. Raised by a single mom who worked long hours to provide for her children, Mosley said the club kept her engaged.
“If it wasn’t for the club, I would literally be at home watching TV doing nothing,” she said. “But because I had that experience, I learned different skills — ballet, art, photography — and got tutoring. Academics became very important to me.”
More than the programs, Mosley credits the counselors who encouraged her along the way. One of them, Derrick Caldwell, became a father figure to her, Mosley said.
“He really motivated me to stay focused, stay on track and love myself for who I am, and not rely on guys to fill that void,” Mosley said.
Mosley said she gets to thank Caldwell often because he’s now the outreach coordinator for the Boys and Girls Clubs.
Mickens said there’s a common thread to success stories such as Mosley’s.
“If you ask any of them what they remember most, more than any program, they will tell you of the people who made an impact on their lives,” Mickens said.
That’s the case with Donovan Moss, whose single mom raised him and three siblings in Hall County. He credits counselors, mentors and tutors at the clubs for his pursuing his goals with confidence.
“They have helped mold the man I am today,” said Moss, who is attending the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Jasmine Gaudlock is attending the University of North Georgia, where she’s studying nursing. She started attending the clubs when she was 12, and found refuge there from difficulties at home.
“I am filled with joy to know there are people at the clubs who genuinely care for someone like me,” she said. “I will never be able to thank them enough for their care and guidance.”
At a time when there’s talk in Washington, D.C., about budget cuts that could reduce grant opportunities to the Boys & Girls Clubs, board member Greg Katulka, a past president of the organization, said it’s important the public hear how the program is making a big difference in the lives of hundreds of children in the area.
Mickens said about 70 percent of funding for the clubs comes from grants.
Mosley said it saddens her to see some of the people she grew up with who got sidetracked by drugs or poor personal decisions that have kept them from tapping their full potential.
“Your family has a lot to do with your success, whether you like it or not,” Mosley said. “That support system means a lot. It may not be a biological family. It may be a church family or a Boys and Girls family or community family. That support has a lot to do, I feel, with your success. Without that, you don’t have people pushing you, encouraging you or motivating you and showing you different paths that you can take.”