GREENFIELD — It wasn’t all that many years after Darren Turner started playing ball at the Boys & Girls Clubs in Greenfield that the place got into his blood.
He became a “club kid” in 1975 and went from shooting hoops to joining the staff when he was 13.
Almost 40 years later and now the agency’s executive director, Turner is leading the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hancock County into its 75th year as it continues making a difference in young people’s lives.
The local club, which has long had its headquarters on Lincoln Street on the outskirts of Riley Park, was one of the first in the state and is unusual because of its stand-alone “traditional club” character.
“There are not a lot of traditional club settings anymore,” said Candace Sexton, director of the Jim Andrews Unit. “These days, most of the clubs share space and programs with other agencies.”
Though it remains traditional in terms of facilities, the club no longer touts a membership roster in the thousands from the days when it sponsored a variety of stick-and-ball sports.
With two gyms, game rooms, a tech center and arts room at the club on Lincoln Street, the club has moved away from its role as primarily an athletic facility, and now focuses on educational and character-building programs for its 245 members in Greenfield and at its Eastern Hancock extension.
“Although we still provide the kinds of things that allow kids to be kids, we are now providing a lot of additional services to help teachers in school,” Turner said.
These days, after-school programs focus on reading and writing fluency, self-respect and education, and the statistics show we’re having an impact,” he said.
Some of the 123 kids the club transports in its two vans after school have shown a two-letter grade improvement in their language skills since enrolling, Turner said.
But whether it’s sharpening bookwork or bank shots, it has been and always will be about the kids, Turner and Sexton say.
“We’re still club kids at heart,” Sexton said.
Sexton starting coming to the Greenfield club in 1989, just four years after the unit officially became a Boys and Girls Club. She became program director in 2007 and unit director in 2009.
The local club was at the tip of the spear on integrating girls into the program as nationally, the organization didn’t adopt that position until 1991, Turner said.
With an annual budget of approximately $400.000, Turner said the club has seen funding flatten out over the past few years. United Way of Central Indiana is a primary funder; Turner also spends a significant amount of time raising money through various events.
The city of Greenfield has historically pitched in $40,000 annually to the agency, and City Council President John Patton said the money is well-spent.
“Of all the groups we support, this is probably one of the best,” Patton said.
Greenfield Police Chief John Jester, himself a club kid 28 years ago, said the club serves as an excellent place for young people and is a great alternative to what kids could be doing.
“I used to live just down the street from the club,” Jester said. “I joined when I was 5 and started playing Little League ball. It was great for me.”
Mark Dismore, former Indy-car driver and owner of Comet Kart Sales and New Castle Motorsports Park, said he virtually grew up at the club before his dad went into the karting business full time.
“They pretty much raised me,” Dismore said. “I was there pretty well every day after school.
“Everyone remembers their first-grade teacher, but I remember everybody at the Boys Club,” Dismore said. “I started boxing at the Boys Club until I got hit square in the nose, and I thought that’s enough of that.”
Former executive director Ron Horning, whose name is inscribed on the main gym floor in recognition of his 24 years of service, said the impact on the community over 75 years of service is hard to quantify.
“This place has really played a significant part in a lot of people’s lives not only in Greenfield but throughout Hancock County,” Horning said. “For years it was the only thing from a structured standpoint that the kids had after school,” Horning said.
And though the building, focus and programs have changed over the years, it seems you can take the kid out of the club, but you can’t take the club out of the kid.
“We have a lot of people who belonged to the club when they were kids who are now bringing their kids there,” he said.
It’s the unseen impact over time and lives that continue to make the agency relevant after all the change.
“The payoff is when one of the kids comes back or you see them out and about and they say ‘If it hadn’t been for that club, there’s no telling what might have happened.’
For Turner, who took the director’s chair in 2004, the club provided an answer to that question early on.
“I knew in high school this is what I wanted to do,” he said.