"I think it really helped my life by having a choice and a place to be able to stay out of trouble," said Garnigan, who as a BGC member received the Youth of the Year award in 1998 and 1999. "The positive staff members that were around me helped me want to come to the Boys & Girls Clubs as well.
"I believe that's part of the reason why I'm still here. They were definitely people that I could go to and talk to about anything, especially Beth Shortnacy. She was the program director when I was a member and now she's my boss. Now she's a unit director and I want to continue to follow her. I've always wanted to be in the movement and I want to continue to be in the movement. I don't see me doing anything else."
For Garnigan, one of the most rewarding aspects about his work is seeing the positive impact that the BGC can have on a member's life.
"I've watched a child that was 6 years old who's about 11 years old now that really was shy and really didn't want to talk to anybody," he said. "I want to say the Boys & Girls Clubs helped him be able to talk to others without being shy and scared of what someone was going to say to him. I think the Boys & Girls Clubs helped him and me being able to see that, I think [it] is awesome."
Garnigan's connection with the nonprofit is one of many that the BGC will highlight during its 20th-anniversary celebration. Instead of marking the clubs' inception in 1990 with a single event, the organization has decided to spread out the festivities from May 2010 to April 2011.
Along with state and local proclamations recognizing the BGC's accomplishments, its purpose and successes also will be shared at events and fundraisers, such as a pancake breakfast at Johnny Mitchell's Smokehouse in Euharlee July 31 and the Adairsville Chase 5K Aug. 21. The organization's celebration will tentatively culminate in the spring with a Hometown Heroes dinner, where those involved in the movement will be honored.
"It's called the positive place for kids for a good reason," said Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini, a BGC board member since the early 1990s. "It provides a place for kids to basically be kids. It gives them an alternative of being somewhere that's going to give them an opportunity to get some homework help, as opposed to being on a street corner or being idle, and unfortunately, when kids are idle they end up doing things they shouldn't.
"This facility gives kids an opportunity to socialize, to participate in athletics, and with the help of folks like the Cartersville Service League and a number of churches and other civic organizations, they get homework support that they need. They get mentoring and the younger kids also get an opportunity to see how to act from the older students who have been in the program and have developed into fine young adults. It's a great message to share. There's a lot of success stories that have come out of the club."
Opened in May 1990 at the Goodyear Clubhouse in the Atco community, the local offering became the first chartered club in the nation to reach out to boys and girls with the name of its organization. The temporary location drew 110 children in its first week and 400 by the end of the year, compared to its current total membership of about 850.
Today, the organization features two locations -- 642 Henderson St. in Cartersville and 127 King St. in Adairsville -- and serves 400 children a day with its summer program. During the school year and the summer, the units offer youths ages 6 to 18 supplemental education and activities like arts and crafts, basketball and board games.
"First and foremost, they are making better decisions," said local BGC Chief Professional Officer Gordon Gilley, when discussing how the organization benefits its members. "Their behavior is improved. ... About 94 percent of our kids finish high school.
"That in itself is significant," he said, comparing it to the state's high school graduation rate of 78.9 percent. "They stay in school. They're better educated. A lot of them, probably about 40 percent of them, are going on to some post-high school involvement whether it's college, technical school, trade school, learning a trade. They are better prepared to be contributing citizens because of their involvement in the club, and they have what we like to call a moral compass. They are very adept at interacting with others. They know the importance of cooperation and leadership, civic responsibility. Our leadership clubs stress community and club service, the importance of giving back."
Serving a melting pot of children, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bartow County keeps its annual membership fee at $25 and offers scholarships when needed.
"Boys & Girls Clubs coined the phrase 'at-risk' 140 years ago," Gilley said. "Most of our kids that walk in the door are at risk not just economically but behavioral expectations are low. Their health and hygiene sometimes is a challenge.
"But then you see them 10 years later or six years later and they're coming back and they're employed or in some cases some of our kids are having families now. They've learned how to be good parents through their involvement in the Boys & Girls Clubs. ... It's most rewarding when you see a young person that's achieving and living life to the fullest because of his or her involvement in the club."
Throughout the club's anniversary celebration, Gilley hopes individuals or businesses will be led to support the nonprofit, whether it be through financial contributions, in-kind donations or volunteering their time. He credits a large part of their success to the community's willingness to rally around the Cartersville and Adairsville locations. Some of the public's many contributions include groups and individuals helping upgrade the Cartersville Unit's facility, Georgia Power loaning a building for the Adairsville Unit for $1 per year, Cartersville Service League members assisting children with their homework and the Booth Western Art Museum staff conducting an art program at the Cartersville BGC.
While the staff is trying to enhance its current level of services, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bartow County also is looking toward the future. Along with searching for a permanent location for the Adairsville Unit, Gilley said one of the organization's goals is providing a presence in the southern portion of the county.
For more information on the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bartow County, call its Cartersville Unit at 770-382-5500 or Adairsville Unit at 770-773-7333.