The last time Georgia football coach Kirby Smart was in Gainesville on a regular basis, he was recruiting Gainesville High grad Blake Sims to join his Alabama squad.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for the people in this community, because I think the first way you measure a community is when you have an event like this and everybody turns out for it,” Smart said Monday night at the 15th annual Futures for Kids Gala benefiting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier.
After hearing the speeches and testimonials of the clubs’ participants, Smart said it showed Gainesville has “people of quality character, and you’ve got people with passion about such a meaningful cause.”
Smart addressed a full ballroom at the Gainesville Civic Center for the clubs’ annual fundraiser.
Although there wasn’t a Boys & Girls Club in his native Bainbridge, Smart said he’s often found quality recruits coming out of these organizations across the region.
“A lot of great kids that I’ve been able to recruit, bring to places and see grow up — they matured in the Boys & Girls Club,” he said.
Self-confidence and better study habits are a few of the qualities Smart said he has seen in former members of the organization. Georgia junior cornerback Deandre Baker is one example. Baker had to do his schoolwork at the Gwen Cherry Park organization in Miami before he could play football.
“He said, ‘It’s the only reason I’m here today.’ He said, ‘People gave their time,’” Smart said.
The clubs serve more than 5,100 young people annually.
During the gala, the clubs honored their inaugural alumni Hall of Fame class, which includes: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, David Chester, Jasmine Jenkins, Phillip Sartain, Philip Wilheit Sr. and Gainesville Fire Chief Jerome Yarbrough.
Sartain was also the first recipient of the award now named for him, the Phillip Sartain Helping Hands Award.
“The award is being renamed in recognition of Mr. Sartain’s long history of passionate dedication and support for the kids served by the club,” according to the organization.
After telling the audience of the obstacles overcome by a pair of alumni, CEO Steven Mickens said the group’s purpose is “providing hope and opportunity to those that need us most.”
“What they don’t realize is that we get inspired to see them ignite their passion and rise up and do some things that no one ever thought they can do and they overcame every obstacle that life has thrown at them,” he said.