Changing lives

Published 10:13 pm Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Surely every story doesn’t turn out as well as that of LaMarr Coles, not even among those who have been involved in the Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Virginia.

When Coles came to Suffolk in the sixth grade, he found a refuge at the Boys and Girls Club, a place where he could go every day to finish his schoolwork, spend time with friends and learn to be a better person. He found a place where he could be himself and have fun, while still learning some important life lessons. He found a place with mentors who cared about him and his personal growth.

After spending a couple of years in the program, Coles briefly dropped out to play basketball at Lakeland High School. But he soon returned, coming back to serve as a leader and to mentor students of his own as a high school student. His work with the club led the organization to name him Youth of the Year for the Southeastern Virginia clubs during the 2010 school year.

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Today, Coles is a sophomore at Old Dominion University, but he continues to be involved with the nonprofit organization’s Suffolk unit. And 13-year-old Uriah Dickerson of John F. Kennedy Middle School is one of many young members who are thankful for Coles’ commitment.

Dickerson has been a club member since his family moved to Suffolk when he was in the third grade. During that time, he has taken a photography class through the club, attended camp on the Eastern Shore and worked as president of a club-run group that promotes leadership and community service.

Coles, who has the perspective to know what he’s talking about, says he believes young Uriah has the makings of a great leader, someone who can pick up the torch and serve as a mentor to other young Boys and Girls Club members in the future.

Coles and Uriah Dickerson are just two of the lives that have been changed under the care of people committed to the Boys and Girls Club in Suffolk and to the important work it does in young lives. Of course, not every story about former members of the club will strike such a resoundingly positive note. But negative outcomes seem by far to be exceptions to the rule.

The vast majority of children and young adults who get involved in the organization benefit greatly from the experience. Boys and Girls Club really improves the lives of its members.

You can support the organization’s work this week, as its Suffolk Advisory Board plans a Barbecue and Oyster Roast from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday at Constant’s Wharf Marina. Funds raised will be used exclusively in Suffolk. For tickets or more information, call 574-7359.