By Bill Sterling

The Boys & Girls Club of the Eastern Shore has a new home for learning, fun activities and nutritious meals.

Starting Monday, Sept. 13, the Boys & Girls Club will meet at Mary N. Smith Cultural Enrichment Center in Accomac Monday through Friday from 3 to 8 p.m.

The Boys & Girls Club program for ages 6 to 18 and provides programming in education and career development, health and life skills, the arts, character and leadership, sports, fitness and recreation programs. But in addition to having fun and learning new skills, members get a nutritious meal each day and help with their homework for the following day. Power Hour provides instruction in science, technology, English and math skills along with the homework assistance.

The Boys & Girls Club programs are provided at affordable rates of $40 a week for ages 12 and under and $15 a week for teens. There is also an annual membership of $20 and a one-time $25 school registration fee. Scholarships are available for families who can’t afford the fees. 

To register, contact Boys & Girls Club director Kathy Custis at 757-709-3038 or email easternshore@bgcseva.org.

B&G Club Pleased with New Home at Mary N. Smith

Boys & Girls Club members at the summer program held at Pungoteague Elementary School this summer.

“We are excited about the opportunity of partnering with Mary N. Smith to provide a location for Boys & Girls Club members,” said Bill Payne, board president of the Boys & Girls Club, Eastern Shore Unit. “We’ve always served Accomack County residents, but with transportation an issue for so many of our members, this new location will enable more youth to join our club.”

The mission of the Boys & Girls Club is one important to our society today: “To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”

Beginning in 2006, when the Eastern Shore Boys & Girls Club first met in a rented building in Exmore, the Boys & Club has been changing lives by teaching youth to make decisions that lead to academic success, having a healthy lifestyle and making good life choices. 

Kathy Custis has been the club director since its formation.

Payne says, “Kathy is our the club’s greatest asset. She inspires our youth to accomplish things they never imagined possible. You can see the self-esteem and confidence growing in these kids every year. She truly makes a difference in the lives of these youth who attend the club.”  

Within a short time after first opening the club was meeting at Occohannock Elementary School with the Northampton County School Board providing space after school and during the summer at a greatly reduced rate. Approximately 90 percent of the membership qualify for free or reduced meals at schools, and 55 percent come from single parent homes.

COVID-19 forced the Boys & Girls Club to adapt and change its meeting venues. When schools were closed, the club continued to provide academic help at the Northampton Fire and Rescue Squad building in Nassawadox under strict heath guidelines. This past summer the club held its daily program at Pungoteague Elementary School. One of the highlights of the summer for the members was enjoying three weeks of pool time at the Onley Recreation Association and the Eastern Shore Yacht and Country Club thanks to a large anonymous donation.

But with the emergence of the Mary N. Smith Cultural Center as the ideal facility to house the Boys & Girls Club, the decision was made to locate the club at this more central location.

Mary N. Smith Cultural Enrichment Center Has Rich History

The Mary N. Smith Cultural Enrichment Center is located at a historic school that served as the first secondary school for all black children of Accomack County. Opening in 1932 in the town of Accomac, the school moved to its current location near Route 13 in Accomac in 1953 and continued to serve as the county high school for African Americans until integration in 1970, when it served as a middle school until 2004. 

The school was named after Mrs. Mary Nottingham Smith (1892-1951), a trustee of the school and a Northampton County native who devoted her life to education beginning in 1921 as a Jeanes Educational Supervisor. The Jeanes Foundation was formed to improve vocational training programs for teachers of black students.

Boys & Girls Club members enjoy activities at the summer program held at Pungoteague Elementary School this summer.

The school sat mostly vacant and neglected for years after its closing until 2011, when the Accomack County School Board donated the building to the newly established Mary N. Smith Alumni Association, with graduates ranging from the years 1935-1970.

The alumni’s mission was to maintain the legacy of the late Mrs. Mary N. Smith by continuing to award scholarships and to convert the building to a cultural enrichment and educational community center for use by all citizens of Accomack County. 

Its biggest challenge was to restore the integrity of the building, badly in need of repairs and renovation after years of neglect. 

However, a $40,000 grant from the Eastern Shore Community Foundation and annual funding from United Way of Virginia’s Eastern Shore in addition to monies raised by the alumni association have improved the building to the point it is used by various organizations in addition to hosting fundraisers, scholarship banquets, wedding receptions, dances and many other events.

Board member Colby West said the Mary N. Smith Cultural Center Board is very excited about partnering with the Boys & Girls Club to hold after-school meetings at the facility beginning in September. “The Mary N. Smith Cultural Center and the Boys & Girls Club share the same vision of providing guidance and building character in our youth,” said West, who is also a member of the local Boys & Girls Club board and helped planned the Swine and Wine fundraiser held at the school before COVID-19 restrictions forced the cancelation of last year’s event and now has forced a cancellation of the 2021 Swine and Wine fundraiser. 

Bill Payne, board president of the Boys & Girls Club, Eastern Shore Unit, said “Colby has been a great addition to our board, and it was through our bond of providing all the resources we can to our youth that led us to explore the possibilities of having a  meeting place in Accomack County. This effort was helped greatly by a major gift from Perdue Farms. It has long been a dream of our board to expand in Accomack County, and we are excited about the club holding programs at the Mary N. Smith Cultural Enrichment Center in September.”

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