‘A better life’

Published 10:48 pm Monday, September 19, 2011

Boys and Girls Club leader Lamarr Coles, left, says hello to club members Alicia Jackson, 14, and Tenesha Hicks, 16, as Uriah Dickerson, right, takes his sweatshirt off before playing basketball at John F. Kennedy Middle School, where the club is hosted. Both Coles and Dickerson said the club has changed their lives and made them better people.

Boys & Girls Club helps kids improve

When LaMarr Coles moved to Suffolk in the sixth grade, he found a safe haven — a place where he could be himself and learn life lessons to better his future while still having fun.

It was a place he could go every day and get his schoolwork done, enjoy quality time with friends and learn how to be a better person.

Coles found his refuge in the Boys and Girls Club, and he loved it so much, he kept coming back.

Email newsletter signup

Now, as a sophomore at Old Dominion University, he continues to work with the Boys and Girls Club as a leader in the Suffolk unit.

“I love the club dearly, and I love what they are doing,” Coles said.

The Boys and Girls Club is a non-profit organization that aims to help young people reach their full potential in school and life.

In addition to helping its members with homework, the group has a plethora of programs and clubs that teach life lessons, such as managing finances and learning healthy habits. The group also provides a safe place for them to go after school to stay out of trouble.

To raise money for its mission, the Suffolk unit is hosting a Barbecue and Oyster Roast from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday at Constant’s Wharf Park and Marina.

The group uses the funds raised to continue to provide opportunities for its members with the hope it will impact their lives.

For Coles, the Boys and Girls Club taught him he could do anything he put his mind to.

“It affected me a lot,” he said. “It helped me to be a better leader and have a better life.”

While he attended in middle school, Coles said, he was surrounded by people at the club who encouraged him to stay on top of his homework and study.

“It helped me grow up even more,” he said. “It helped me to push harder.”

After middle school, Coles took a short break from the Boys and Girls Club to pursue basketball at Lakeland High School, because he didn’t have time to do both.

But it wasn’t long before he found his way back to the club.

“I decided I wanted to help kids,” he said. “I wanted to give back what the club gave to me.”

However, when he returned, Coles took on a different role as a junior leader.

He said being a leader at the club instilled in him a sense of responsibility to the kids.

Coles said he worked harder in school because he didn’t want to tell the students to study hard if he wasn’t doing the same thing.

“It gave me a sense of responsibility,” he said. “It helped me push myself, the kids and my peers.”

Coles’ commitment to the club and its members was recognized by regional club leadership when he was named the Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Virginia’s Youth of the Year in 2010.

During his time helping out at the Boys and Girls Club, Coles has formed close bonds with many of the students, including 13-year-old Uriah Dickerson.

Uriah, an 8th-grader at JFK, has been a club member since his family moved to Suffolk when he was in the third grade.

“I didn’t even know what it was at first,” he said.

But once he started attending, he said, Uriah found the same safe place in Boys and Girls Club that Coles did.

He’s been active at the Boys and Girls Club ever since, serving as the president for the unit’s Torch Club, which promotes leadership and community service; helping the younger students with their homework; taking a photography class the club offered through the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts; and attending a summer field trip to the Eastern Shore.

“I’ve done a lot here,” he said. “I’ve been places I’ve never been. We went to Camp Silver Beach over the summer, and that was really fun.”

Uriah said the Boys and Girls Club has taught him how to be a good leader and how to achieve his goals for the future, which include attending either University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or Ohio State to become a teacher or a scientist.

Coles said Uriah has the makings of a great leader and hopes Uriah will become a junior leader, like he did, next year.

“You can look at yourself in the mirror and say ‘I’m great, and I’m going to do something great,’” Coles said.

For more information on the Boys and Girls Club, visit www.bgcseva.org.

To purchase tickets to the barbecue and oyster roast, call 574-7359.