Erly Saldano, the newly-hired executive director of the A.R. "Gus" Barksdale Boys & Girls Club in Conyers, grew up in South Central Los Angeles where he witnessed how the Boys & Girls Club provided safe haven for those youth who wanted to escape the danger of the streets.
Since coming to Conyers a few short weeks ago, Saldano sees that the club can serve yet another pivotal role in children's lives. For kids in Rockdale and nearby counties, the Conyers Boys & Girls Club provides not only a home away from home, but also enrichment opportunities that they wouldn't otherwise be able to access.
"It seems like a way of life here. It's kind of like a family resource center," said Saldano, who rattles off a list of programming the center offers such as computer research, culinary arts, art classes and photography. "It's amazing. When we close at 6, you can see they're not ready to go and they've been here all day."
The Conyers Boys & Girls Club, which serves roughly 950 children overall and this summer is serving about 280 daily, is gearing up for its annual fundraiser, Super Saturday Night. The event this year will be held at Acuity Brands Lighting in Conyers from 6 to 11 p.m. Aug. 15. At the Acuity Brands' People Center, which provides views of a lake and a sprawling lawn, patrons will be able to partake of an outdoor patio with live music, indoor dining with several food stations, wine tastings and a silent auction. Tickets are $75 a piece and up, with various VIP packages and sponsorships available.
"This event is very instrumental in raising the operating funds for the Barksdale Center," said Sheryl Manley, Boys & Girls Club regional director of development who added that the fundraising goal for the event is in excess of $70,000. "It's to keep the doors open and keep all of the programs functioning for our kids."
Offering a multi-cultural flavor, Super Saturday Night will feature food stations with dishes from Italy, Asia, India and Africa. Likewise, wine tastings will offer wines from California, Argentina, Italy and Germany. To add to the global flair, the Conyers Boys & Girls Club's Latino Dancers will provide entertainment.
"We are doing an international theme and by doing so wanted to recognize the diverse nature of our club and also the growing international nature of the Conyers community," said Manley, who added that there will also be a host of items available for silent auction including bed and breakfast stays, theater tickets, gym memberships and golf passes.
A.R. "Gus" Barksdale Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year Naomi Gaiton credits the club with providing her a gateway to post-secondary education. Gaiton, a 17-year-old recent Rockdale County High School graduate, has amassed close to $10,000 in scholarships through programs connected with the club. She is looking forward to majoring in mathematics at Columbus State University in the fall.
She began attending the Conyers Boys & Girls Club 12 years ago when her family moved to the area from New Jersey. Her mother, Lucy Gaiton, a single working mother and widow, sought out the club as a source of safe after-school care for her two children, Naomi and her older brother Jacob.
"The Boys & Girls Club is like a second home to me. I have staff who are mentors who advise me on how to be a productive young woman," Gaiton said. "I like going to the club. I learn something new every day I go there. They really put education and leadership first."
Gaiton said the Boys & Girls Club College Bound program prepared her for transitioning from high school into college. Through the program, she learned what to expect at college, how to manage her time and how to improve her study habits. The program also sponsored college tours throughout the Southeastern region for Gaiton.
Gaiton said she couldn't imagine not being a member of the Boys & Girls Club.
"I think it's way beyond important to me because if I didn't have the Boys & Girls Club I don't know where I'd be today," Gaiton said.
To order tickets for Super Saturday Night or for questions, call Mary Ann Long at the A.R. "Gus" Barksdale Boys & Girls Club at 770-483-8848.