As more and more kids began to file into the Springfield Elementary School cafeteria Thursday afternoon, the buzz and excitement began to build.
“Are we getting medals?” was the question of the day as the students sat down at tables adorned with cakes, pizza and other refreshments.
The students were part of the Fort Mill Boys and Girls Club and they were there to celebrate something near and dear to their heart — themselves.
And, yes, they did get medals.
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One-by-one, the 45 members of the Fort Mill chapter of the Boys and Girls Club were called up to the stage to be recognized with a certificate of achievement and receive a medal showing that they’ve completed the year in the club.
“This is for how we’ve done this year and how we’ve been in the club,” said fifth-grader Nicholas Palmieri. “It shows that we’ve done really well, and it’s also a whole lot of fun.”
To Boys and Girls Club Director Rashan Thornton, it means the kids have had fun, but they’ve also accomplished a whole lot more. Thornton left his retail management job about eight weeks ago when he saw the director position become available, but he is not new to Boys and Girls Clubs or what they stand for. For the past four years he has been running The Triumphant Academy, a nonprofit he founded for at-risk middle-school boys ages 11-13. He teaches them life skills and helps them with homework and other aspects of their lives.
Thornton had also previously volunteered with the Boys and Girls Club and knows how valuable these experiences can be for the students he helps mentor.
“For me, personally, this is very rewarding because it’s my passion,” Thornton said.
“For the kids, it’s an accomplishment and achievement. That really goes a long way, and even so at this age. When they get rewarded it feels good and it lights them up. They look forward to doing the next great thing. I think as early as you can it’s important to show kids that they get rewarded for doing good things because then they want to continue to do good things.”
And, Thornton said, that applies to all of the boys and girls in the club, regardless of whether they are just getting started in the club, or moving on to middle school next year as a new wave of members take their place.
“We have the three pillars of success and that’s what the Boys and Girls Club is all about,” he said.
“We strive for academic success, good character and citizenship and a healthy lifestyle. Those are the things we promote and it doesn’t matter who the kid is because that can help make anyone a better person. If you look around here there are kids from every ethnic group and social background. There’s that, but also they get to mix and mingle with their friends from school. A lot of these kids come from single-family (women-run) homes, so this gives them a chance to work with some men. It’s a really great thing for their really young development and I think it is nothing but a positive.”
Fifth-grader Elena Cueto said she has gotten alot out of her time with the club as she prepares to move onto Springfield Middle School next year.
“It prepares us for what we should do and how we should act and pay attention,” Cueto said.
The students said they like the activities and games that they are able to play, including football and a game called “silent ball” but Boys and Girls Club has a much bigger impact on their lives than helping them athletically.
“It’s really helpful because there is not a lot of kids that get this opportunity,” said fourth-grader Isaiah Mayhew.
“We have help from these other adults who step up and make the decision to be here with us. I’m really glad that they came and took their time to help us and to help develop us. They give us help with our homework, they give us math sheets and help us with them. They read to us and really they do as much as they can to make us grow as good kids. I’m really thankful to be a part of it and happy that we have people willing to take time from their lives to help us.”