'Boys & Girls Clubs Saved My Life.' Caring for Kids in the Digital Age.
"I've been with Boys & Girls Clubs my entire life," says Tony Orr, regional Southeast vice president for Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA). Orr has worked with BGCA for 18 years. But it all began for him as a young boy, going to the Milton Road club in Charlotte, North Carolina, when he was just 6 years old. With his grandmother working two jobs, Orr needed a place to go after school, and the BGCA became his saving grace.
"It was the first place I found a male that I connected with,” he says. “I needed someone I could reach out to, and I found that in the staff at the Boys & Girls Club. They accepted me for me."
BGCA has provided resources to help families and communities with youth development for over 160 years. Now, thanks to a recent upgrade, the Milton Road club's technology lab will further help students take advantage of opportunities while gaining the skills to get ahead.
Bridging the digital divide—in a safe space for kids
Without another youth organization within a 10-mile radius, Milton Road Boys and Girls Club is a resource many kids turn to for homework help, a hot meal, or mentorship. And in a screen-driven world, students can now take advantage of the club’s new digital tools.
"You've got to have the right technology skills to be competitive," says Orr. With more students engaging in remote learning than ever before, the U.S. digital divide is increasingly apparent.”
Students overall produced lower test scores than in 2019, but those in Black, Latino, and low-income communities took the hardest hit. In 2021 the education gap widened, with students averaging six months of unfinished learning, almost twice as much as their white counterparts from higher-income homes.1
To help students stay on track as they return to in-person learning, the Charlotte club underwent renovations and upgraded their technology lab with the help of Truist.
Better tech for the kids—unveiled by an NFL legend
President and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of America Jim Clark hopes the renovations will be an academic resource and provide a learning experience that opens doors to opportunity.
"Kids today, unfortunately, don't all have access to computers. They may have phones and things like that, but without computers, it makes it really difficult for learning," he says.
In celebration of the lab upgrades, Truist invited a special guest to its charity golf tournament—an annual event to raise money for BGCA—to come meet the kids. NFL Hall of Famer Terrell Owens helped unveil the lab, giving out backpacks and signed footballs.
Owens, who grew up in the small town of Alexander City, Alabama, understands what it's like to walk in the kids' shoes and believes BGCA provides a safe haven.
"People think Boys & Girls Clubs are about playing sports and having a good time," says Owens, "but you also have a lot of individuals here who teach and hone in on the kids." Owens hopes kids will be inspired by his story and encouraged to pursue their dreams.
"Now that they have this facility, they have access to enhance their learning skills and capabilities,” he says. “There's no excuse not to become who they want to be."
Students Lopez Grier and Austin Alberty are impressed with the lab's improvements and look forward to using the space to complete homework. And Orr knows the impact will go beyond the classroom.
"When I saw the technology center from day one and today, it's a complete 180," says Orr. The Truist team spent a week moving furniture, painting a mural, and creating a reading nook to revitalize the room. "For many kids, they now know they can come to the club and do their homework, research, or reports. We're making sure these kids can graduate on time with a plan for the future."
BGCA continues more than 160 years of service built on relationships
BGCA serves almost 4.4 million kids a year,2 with help from numerous supporters and partners like Truist, who have been part of the Boys & Girls Clubs family for decades. While financial investments are critical to programming, money is only half the equation. "It's about bringing volunteers and getting involved in their communities across the Southeast and eastern part of the United States," says Clark.
For Truist Charlotte Market President Raichelle "Rai" Glover, these are the moments that give her job true purpose. "It's easy just to give a check, but if you get your teammates involved, it brings a holistic approach to building a better community—a better life for youth." Glover is proud to be a part of a company that not only cares but has a mission of service.
"Think about the dash between your birth date and your death date,” she says. “Does it really matter if we don't have some reason for helping to make the community better?"
Giving it forward
Coming full circle with the BGCA — from club member to volunteer — Orr knows it only takes a few hours to make a difference in someone's life. "One day of volunteering for two hours has now turned into 18 years. So, the Boys & Girls Clubs works."
When Orr thinks about how far he's come in life, he attributes much of his success to his years spent at Milton Road BGC and dedicates his life to giving back to the place that gave him so much.
"I can honestly tell you if it weren't for the Boys & Girls Clubs in my community when I was growing up, I wouldn't be where I am today."
Want to get involved? See how you can help a BGCA in your community.
Read more On Purpose stories about how Truist teammates are living out our purpose, mission and values.
1 “COVID-19 and education: The lingering effects of unfinished learning,” McKinsey & Company, Retrieved September 2021.
2 “FAQ,” Boys & Girls Club of America, Retrieved September 2021.