United Way of Story County (UWSC) has been advancing the common good since 1953. In celebration of its anniversary, UWSC has been taking a closer look at some of the partners who have provided much needed programs to the community throughout the past 60 years. This month’s column features the Boys & Girls Club of Story County, which is celebrating 50 years in 2013.

John McKinney, who is originally from Davenport, has lived in Ames since 1957 and remembers helping the program get started in Story County. McKinney had taken over as juvenile judge for the county in 1963. Juvenile services were basically non-existent at that time.

"After a hearing, kids were either sent home or sent to a training school," remembers McKinney. "We desperately needed to build up community resources. So, I hired Bob Carter as a probation officer, and we started looking for agencies or programs that could help juveniles on probation, or kids who didn’t have a very good home life…those who were free to roam."

The idea came about to start a boy’s club. At that time, the Boys Club of America’s national headquarters was in Chicago (now in Atlanta). The national organization helped McKinney, Carter and others to mobilize more people who were interested in helping. The Boys Club of America made trips to Ames, laid the groundwork for the organization and helped form a board of directors. The charter for the Ames Boys Club was written in 1963. McKinney served as president for a few years in the 1960s.

Girls weren’t involved at that time. In 1990, the national organization’s name was changed to Boys & Girls Clubs of America to recognize the fact that girls are a part of the cause. In 1991, the Boys Club of Ames followed suit, changing its name to the Boys & Girls Club of Ames and welcomed females to join as well. (The organization grew countywide and became Boys & Girls Club of Story County in 2003.)

McKinney says one of the highlights for him was helping to start the Ames Boys Club Little League team, a precursor to Ames Little League getting started. St. Cecilia had a school team, and the Ames Boys Club team played against them in the county league.

"The initial reason we wanted to start the program was that we felt there was a need for an agency that could help keep kids out of trouble," McKinney says. "But clearly, the organization evolved to serve kids from all walks of life and situations."

McKinney remembers the baseball team playing during a Fourth of July celebration in Collins. "A fellow came up to me afterwards and said, ‘so nice you’re spending time with all these delinquents.’ But not one of the players on the team was a delinquent." McKinney enjoyed being involved in the Ames Boys Club, and he continues to advocate for the organization.

"It’s a community resource that is needed for the young people, he says. "It’s a good example of why we needed some place for kids to go to and congregate after school. If we didn’t have it, kids might be in an empty house or on the streets."

Executive Director Geff Gescheidler has been with the Boys & Girls Club since 1991 and can speak to the evolution of the organization. He says he is most proud to know that the club is providing a safe place and a positive alternative for the youth of Story County. "I feel our Homework Help program, a partnership with Iowa State University, and our Kids Cafe meal program are two of the best kept secrets in the community," says Gescheidler.

When asked about the next 50-plus years, Gescheidler says the challenges facing the club are likely similar to those of any other agency … trying to keep up with funding and trying to finance all of the needs of the organization.

Gescheidler says "One of the challenges that we are proud to take on is keeping up with the ever-changing needs of the youth. Whether its technology and social media to the latest craze in sports, we try to adapt to everyone we serve."

More information on the Boys & Girls Club of Story County can be found at www.bgcstorycounty.com.

(Sara Wilson is marketing director for United Way of Story County, a strategic leader in building countywide partnerships to identify needs and to develop, support and evaluate effective human services for our diverse community.)