photography by Naomi lynn vacaro

Since 1954, The Citrus Center Boys & Girls Club has been committed to serving local youth. The club has created numerous programs that continue to provide the support and mentorship young people need to thrive today.

Nationally, the Boys & Girls Club had its beginnings in Hartsfield, Connecticut, in 1860. Three local women thought that boys roaming the streets should have a safe alternative — a place to develop character. These ideals still ring true today. The mission of the Boys & Girls Club of America is: “To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.” The Boys & Girls Club of America is certainly alive and well at The Citrus Center Boys & Girls Club campuses in Winter Haven, Haines City, and Lake Wales.

Upon meeting Curtis Reddick, the chief professional officer of the Citrus Center Boys & Girls Club, his warmth and enthusiasm for the children he serves is immediately evident. Reddick is approaching his 20th year serving the youth of East Polk County through the Boys & Girls Club. He first came to the club as a volunteer through his job at Publix. He speaks passionately about the work that is done at the club, and takes very seriously the values he and his fellow leaders are trying to instill in the youth they aid. Most importantly, Reddick says, is the importance and reiteration of manners. “Not every kid can be a straight-A student, but every kid can be polite. And that will carry them far in life.” Simple but necessary life skills a child may not learn otherwise.

“Not every kid can be a straight-A student, but every kid can be polite. And that will carry them far in life.”

When asked what a typical day looks like at the Boys & Girls Club, Reddick replies, “Job number one is to keep kids safe.” After safety is ensured, academics are an important part of the time a child spends at the Boys & Girls Club. “The first question we’re asking when they walk through the doors is, ‘Do you have any homework?’” Generous classroom-style spaces are available to work on any assignments a club member may have. A computer lab (which Reddick organized through a local donation) is also available. Kids can work on reading programs (called Moby Max) and are invited to do so daily. Every child is encouraged to spend at least 15 minutes reading each day. Tutors are also accessible for any child that may need extra help. The staff has transformed the existing spaces into functional areas for academics, and Reddick is grateful for their dedication.

It should be mentioned that no cell phones are allowed to be out during these academically focused times. One of the ways Reddick is trying to set the youth up for success is by encouraging them to interact with each other face to face; social skills being one of the important lessons Boys & Girls Club is striving to teach. This is an increasingly difficult idea to grasp, but he is fighting the good fight.

Once homework is completed, there are plenty of opportunities to have fun. The club has a huge gymnasium, a dedicated “teen room,” a huge outdoor play yard, and lots of picnic tables. There are also pool tables, games, and foosball for use. Some of the important lessons the kids learn are healthy competition, fair play, and how to get along with each other. Outdoor play time is an important part of the Boys & Girls Club experience.

Some of the important lessons the kids learn are healthy competition, fair play, and how to get along with each other.

The club organizes several different programs that are offered throughout the year in order to encourage continuing education in a variety of fields. Financial and business speakers visit the club, as well as mechanical specialists to encourage club members to look toward the future.

Members of the Boys & Girls Club are encouraged to participate in programs like Money Matters, created by the Charles Schwab foundation; and SMART Moves. The SMART Moves (Skills Mastery and Resistance Training) prevention/education program addresses problems such as drug and alcohol use and premature sexual activity. The SMART Moves program gives participants the tools they need to navigate complicated topics like peer influence and the ever-present giant: social media. Teens In Charge encourages teens to volunteer in the community and to do job shadowing. Pathway to Manhood gives young men the practical life skills they need to succeed.

Since the club operates from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., lots of kids are looking for snacks. (Some of these kids eat their lunches at 10 a.m.!) There is a concession stand available daily, and the club does receive some food donations. Reddick says Grant Piche from the Catering Oasis is a big help as far as feeding the youth. One of Reddick’s goals is to have a functioning kitchen at the club. With the addition of a kitchen, kids could learn about healthy eating with a hands-on approach. A kitchen would also have the potential for cooking demonstrations and lessons.

The Boys & Girls Club organizes several different programs that are offered throughout the year in order to encourage continuing education in a variety of fields.

The Citrus Center Boys & Girls Club Winter Haven Campus serves about 350 youth per day during the school year. Additionally, the club offers summer programs. The club serves children ranging in ages from six to 18, the majority being ages six to 12. However, the Boys & Girls Club does have the largest teenage population of any after-school program in the area. It’s a great resource for kids who don’t need (or want) to be left on their own after school. Membership to the club costs just $15 per year. That leaves a large portion of the operational costs to be filled by grants and fundraisers.

Reddick says the United Way of Central Florida is the club’s largest benefactor. Additional funding comes through The Department of Education mentoring grants from the cities the club serves: Winter Haven, Lake Wales, and Haines City. Florida’s Natural and Publix also contribute.

The Citrus Center Boys & Girls Club hosts some of the most popular fundraisers around. The Bartender Bash is held in the early summer and hosts guest celebrity bartenders competing for the top title of best bartender. It is a hugely successful event that everyone looks forward to each year. Another popular event called Smoke on the Water hosts over 20,000 visitors at the Winter Haven airport. Crowds come from all over to sample local barbecue, but the event also includes live music, seaplane rides, and a ski show. Smoke on the Water happens each February. Heading in to its 28th year, the third major fundraiser the Boys & Girls Club hosts is their Golf Tournament that takes place each October. Reddick credits the incredible board of directors for these events’ successes. He says the board members are dedicated to the club’s cause, and they really get what the program is all about.

If you’re looking for ways to get involved with our local club, volunteers are always needed for a variety of opportunities, especially coaches, readers, and anyone who wants to help with homework. Please visit ccbgc.com for a list of items needed, and consider lending the club your support.

CITRUS CENTER BOYS & GIRLS CLUB

2400 Havendale Blvd. NW

863.967.1532 | ccbgc.com