Started in 2000, the Cartersville Century has flourished through the years, now drawing nearly 1,000 participants from throughout the Southeast. The benefit, which also offers cyclists rest stops every 10 to 15 miles along the course and a post-ride meal, is expected to net about $50,000.
"[These funds are] vital. It's about 15 percent of our budget and that helps both clubs -- Cartersville and Adairsville -- stay open and fully operational. We don't have to abbreviate hours or turn away kids," said Gordon Gilley, chief professional officer for Boys & Girls Clubs of Bartow County. "I think the key for us is, there's a lot of rides but, in our case, not only do all the proceeds benefit the club but it's done completely with volunteers, completely. We don't have to pay for rest stops, which is a pretty big process, four or five hours with volunteers.
"I think [the volunteers] get a lot of bang for the buck because, not only do they enjoy doing it for the clubs, it's a good team-building opportunity for our rest stop sponsors. Also, this ride's unique that we not only have rider support, which goes right to the clubs, but also we combine that with our corporate sponsors and give them great bang for the buck with sponsorship signs and T-shirts and on our website. ... [Our sponsors] are reaching not only our local community here but they're reaching 900 to 1,000 riders [and] 200 volunteers with their message."
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.
Today, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bartow County features two locations -- 642 Henderson Drive in Cartersville and 127 King St. in Adairsville -- and serves 300 to 350 children a day with its summer program. During the school year and the summer, the units offer youth ages 6 to 18 supplemental education and activities like arts and crafts, basketball and board games.
For Gilley, there are numerous present and former members that exemplify the positive impact that the clubs have on the community's youth. Perhaps one of the most glowing illustrations is that of India Jefferson. As a part-time employee for the Boys & Girls Clubs' Cartersville Unit, the 17-year-old is following in the footsteps of her childhood mentors.
"[I joined the club] on my birthday, as soon as I turned 6 years old," said Jefferson, a rising senior at Cartersville High School. "I enjoyed the workers the most because they were always here for me and they guided me basically through life and kept me focused on school and teaching me that it's always good to have friends."
Through her experiences at the Cartersville Unit -- as a member, volunteer and seasonal worker -- Jefferson has witnessed the nonprofit's benefits firsthand.
"This is a place for local kids to come to stay out of trouble," she said. "I always say the kids are our future so they need something to build off of. [I] just play with them every day, just keep them entertained so they have things to do, feed them [and] talk to them. ... There's so many [children that benefit from the club].
"We do have a special [young] kid here who really didn't talk, really didn't know how to talk. And we worked with him and got him more involved with the kids because he was always in the corner by himself. We just brought him out of his shell basically and tried to get him involved in everything."
To participate in the Cartersville Century, cyclists can register at the event at 6 a.m. or sign up online at www.cartersvillecentury.org. Starting and ending at Dellinger Park in Cartersville, the 8 a.m. ride features four distances for individuals to select from: 15 miles, 30 miles, 50 miles and 100 miles. Entry fees are $45 per person.
For more information about the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bartow County, call 770-382-5500.