Two great legacies converged when J. Mason Davis Leadership Society (JMDLS) members toured one of the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club’s facilities. Dr. A.G. Gaston, who founded the club in 1966, not only built a business empire in Alabama but also a community of changemakers.
His philanthropic mission was based on the belief that every child is special and has the potential, with our help, to grow into a strong adult. Much like the work of J. Mason Davis and members of UWCA leadership society named in his honor, Dr. Gaston’s accomplishments have proven long-lasting.
The JMDLS recently visited A.G. Gaston’s newly renovated Walter Howlett, Jr. Clubhouse in Ensley. This wonderful facility contains several classrooms, a garden, an outdoor basketball court, a gymnasium, a performance space, a teaching kitchen and more.
While the building is incredible on its own, the life lessons and interaction that take place between the club directors and the students they serve from schools throughout the Greater Birmingham area make the space truly shine.
Former club member and now Director of Operations Devin Posey led the tour. He talked about his personal experience with the organization as a child, which made it all the more evident to JMDLS member George Dobbins the kind of impact the club staff has on the students.
“Touring the facility and knowing what the Boys & Girls Club has meant to so many people throughout the generations, you can see its impact,” said Dobbins. “People that have been here are coming back to participate and support it. That’s the lasting impression the organization has made — people are coming back to give back.”
There’s great physical evidence of Dr. Gaston’s success, such as the buildings that house the mission-driven clubs; but there is also much more intangible proof through character development and the many lessons learned by younger generations.
“You can see it all in the work,” said Society Co-chair Cleo Crawford. “With J. Mason and A.G. Gaston, they’re trying to build on their legacies and pass on those lessons — business lessons and lessons on giving back to the community. It’s a win-win.”
If they hadn’t heard it before, they’ll hear it here. The club not only tells children, “You can be anything you want to be,” it gives them the resources to launch life-long passions.
One of the many highlights of the club is the opportunity it offers children to explore practically any type of future career, from rocket scientist to radio host. Students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), for example, might learn how to build and fly rockets outside; kids who are more interested in the arts might take up writing and recording in a dedicated podcasting room.
Club leaders set an example that helps children eliminate self-doubt. Kids learn from people who achieved their goals…people who look like them…people who were once in the very same place that they are today.
“As the co-chair of the society, my goal is to get more men,” said Crawford. “I want to see more Black men out here. I want those kids to see their faces. I want them to know you can still be a success story with whatever venue you choose. Just do it the right way, and always go back and help your community. Go help your fellow man. It’s for our community, but I also want to help people. Period. We want to build better people.”
Through support and guidance, the club and its supporters are fostering an ideal environment to help children succeed. This may be important now more than ever as kids enter a rapidly changing world.
“Some of the things that we’ll see with our kids coming up and the challenges they’ll face, if we’re not involved to help shape them, then we’re allowing their external environment to shape them,” said Dobbins.
Both the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club and the J. Mason Davis Leadership Society forge paths for others to follow thanks to service-minded members. While the mission of each organization may differ slightly, the course of action to achieve them is similar.
“Action, resources and time are very critical to moving the mission forward,” said Dobbins. “Whatever small contribution you have, it’s all equally important; whether that’s your time, resources or the talent that you have to share.”
Looking to take advantage of opportunities like this one through the J. Mason Davis Leadership Society? Fill out this form on the website for more information.
Don’t miss MLK Day of Service on January 17, 2022. The United Way Hands On team will offer a curated service project with details to be announced later.
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