The activist and mentor -- NaTika Rowles

Friday, January 13, 2006
NaTika Rowles

In just a moment talking to NaTika Rowles, executive director for the Cape Girardeau chapter of the Boys and Girls Club of America, it becomes clear that she spends all her time accomplishing things and no time at all thinking about her accomplishments.

At high speed, she rattled off a list of what's going on at the Boys and Girls Club these days, one which, if it were printed on a scroll, would fall to the floor and roll cartoon-style out the door and across the street. She and her small, mostly volunteer staff aim to reach each young person in the area with programs ranging from dribbling a basketball to balancing a checkbook, and they're making progress.

"My vision is that the Boys and Girls Club would serve all the youth in Cape and be available to all the youth there, and that the community would support it," Rowles said, "and I'm starting to see it.

The amiable and enthusiastic St. Louisian arrived in Cape Girardeau in 2003 and applied for the job at the Boys and Girls Club because she'd done volunteer work with the organization elsewhere. Rowles, who double majored in dance and fashion merchandising and management at Missouri State, soon convinced the board that her unconventional combination of expertise, coupled with her gregarious demeanor and knack for efficiency, made her the ideal person to take the helm.

Under her direction, the Boys and Girls Club is expanding rapidly, initiating outreach programs to serve children who aren't in the immediate vicinity of its downtown Cape Girardeau headquarters.

"We're going to the schools," Rowles said. "We're trying to take our programs to the children."

In addition, the club has after-school programs set to begin soon in Cape Girardeau at both the Second Missionary Baptist Church and the Family Resource Center.

Although Rowles's strategy is working, she is quick to point out that there's more work to be done, and quick to pass the credit for recent achievements on to others.

"I have a wonderful board," she said, "and the community has helped out tremendously. So have the United Way and our national organization."

Rowles also stressed that the youth are the ones who are going to be running this community someday, and that they are confronted with an ugly assortment of problems. She urges each person in the community to choose a problem and to march, just as Martin Luther King Jr. did for Civil Rights.

"Back then, it was the Civil Rights movement and for the African Americans," she said. "Now, our children are facing AIDS, teen pregnancy and illiteracy, to name just a few. Of course, we fight all of these at the Boys and Girls Club, but at some point, each individual has to decide which one to take on and march against. We can start here. We can make it a better community, a better Cape Girardeau, a better United States and a better world."

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