Optimists' view of child's play

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

It's not as if the boys and girls on Cape Girardeau's south side haven't been invited to play.

City recreational leagues and programs are open to all, regardless of race or residency. Many times, scholarships are offered for those who can't afford league dues.

But many of the problems of Cape Girardeau's poorest youths go well beyond a lack of money.

Some of their parents may be too preoccupied, or perhaps lackadaisical, to find out what activities or financial help may be offered to their children.

Other parents or guardians may have no means of transportation to get children to ballgames or practices. Most of the city's recreational facilities are miles away from Sprigg Street and Highway 74.

As a result, many believe it's much easier for children in south Cape Girardeau to find trouble than it is to find fun or opportunities to express themselves in a productive and healthy way.

"We're dealing with children having a welfare background," said Frances Hemphill, a new member of South Side Optimist Club. "They need an outlet other than hanging out on the street corner where a 10-year-old can be talked into selling drugs."

So far, more than 50 people have joined a new South Side Optimist Club. Since many children can't go to the recreation, the new club wants to bring the recreation to them.

The group's goal is to raise funds for a south side recreational facility, a place where children and youths can play, hang out and learn.

Often, children don't have a place to go after school that encourages positive group activities, said NaTika Rowles, the executive director of the local Boys and Girls Clubs as well as a new Optimist member.

Rowles said the Boys and Girls Clubs is available to children from all over the city, but it's on Broadway, one of the city's busiest commercial areas and miles away for some children.

There is an after-school program in place on the south side at the Family Resource Center at 1202 S. Sprigg St. with about 15 to 20 participating.

But volunteers say the facility is falling apart. The building is an old church that has no gymnasium. The Family Resource Center also houses summer programs.

The new Optimist Club is a spin-off from Cape Girardeau's Evening Optimist Club.

Siblings Marvin and Deborah McBride have done much of the recruiting and organizing of the new club. Both currently live in Jackson. Deborah McBride, who was the first black woman to win a primary election for a county office in her unsuccessful bid to become county administrator last year, lived on the south side three years. Marvin McBride, president of the new club, formerly coached at the civic center, which is now the Boys and Girls Clubs. He once lived in Cape Girardeau's south side, currently attends church there and has several friends in its neighborhoods.

Deborah McBride knows that it will be a challenge not only raising money, but reaching the children.

"There are a lot of behavioral problems," she said. "They might be a little loud. But they might just need the proper structure. The doors have never been opened to us to step in and be a part of something."

The club has already reached out to Central High School's Hip Hop Dance Club.

"Right now, we're trying to book the Central hip-hop group for a banquet in June," said Rowles, who thinks the dance team can bring "the two sides of Cape together."

"We're trying to start up another group for younger kids," she said. "I think the Optimist Club is a positive thing. It could help build collaboration and partnerships and bring more services to the youth."

Joy Bell, one of the newest members of the South Side Optimist Club, doesn't live on the south side.

"But I'm interested in anything and everything we can do as a community to offer a more level playing field," Bell said. "The young kids on the south side can't begin to have an equal opportunity."

So far, the club, which formed Dec. 15, is still ironing out details. It currently meets on Friday nights at the Greater Dimensions church, but the club is considering changing nights. The club is also organizing a banquet for June 25. There will be a silent and live auction.

The club is accepting new members and donations for the banquet. Those interested may call Marvin McBride at 382-4092.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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