Club gets a new chance to thrive

Ruthie King is the new executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Youngstown. She believes that with access comes achievement. BOB YOSAY | The Vindicator

Gardens grow great things — if properly tended and nurtured.

Kids are the same.

Even our most challenged ones.

Ruthie King’s first week on the job at Youngstown Boys and Girls Club began just as the tomatoes and cucumbers in the club garden were ripe for the picking. And picking was what the kids were doing. The fresh vegetables fit in fine with the nightly meal served to about 65 kids at the Oak Hill Avenue facility.

Take a picture of that scene:

Two examples of growth and enrichment sprawling over a table; both sprouting up from the streets of Youngstown.

The vegetables grew over a couple of months.

The kids will take a little longer.

King, the club’s new executive director, has no doubt it will happen.

“Given access, you, too, can achieve some of the same things that you see other kids who don’t look like you achieve,” she said.

She’s part of a renewed investment in the place that for more than 40 years has served city kids age 3 to 18.

It’s a new start for the club, timed with a new start for its boss.

King has been a Youngstown resident for less than a year, moving here from Pittsburgh after her husband, the Rev. Dr. William King I, was appointed pastor at Price Memorial AME Zion Church in October 2012. They commuted for the first several months before finding a home in the city.

“Our church family made us truly feel at home,” said King. “From that start, it just got better, and I felt I would like to live here.”

And she’s at home at the club, too. She saw the benefits of the organization firsthand when her son was a member in Pittsburgh. (The couple’s son and daughter are both in their 20s now).

Bob Hannon of the United Way was key to getting King on board, as he was nurturing the club’s other new champions — Chris and Ed Muransky.

Ed and Bob first brought some kids out to a United Way fishing event at Evans Lake last summer, and when the kids saw the water, one of the kids shared: “Look — the ocean.”

Ed and Bob were hooked on their mission.

King’s first taste of the extent of that mission was during her first week. The kids were treated to a dinner at The Lake Club.

“It was a sight to see — limousines picked up the kids on Oak Hill Avenue. The boys opened the doors for the ladies; the boys and girls walked in, arm-and-arm, into the Lake Club dinner; the boys pulled out the chairs for ladies. ... They were all Kodak moments,” said King.

Funniest, she said, was watching the girls stand by the table until the boys pulled the chairs out from the table. It sustained a belief she knows.

“The kids are reachable,” she said. “One of the beauties of such an event is they get an opportunity to see a different side of life. It helps make them comfortable that they, too, can achieve.”

It’s odd for me to hear her say that in 2013.

I’m a club kid from the 1970s.

Our Buffalo neighborhood was nowhere near as challenged as the situations we see now in Youngstown, especially in the area the club calls home.

But we had our challenges. The club was our place to escape and achieve. I laugh now when I think back to our pioneering ways. When I started, it was Town Boys Club. Girls had just started coming in on Saturdays. By the time I left, girls were full-fledged members, and not much later, it became the Town Boys and Girls Club.

The movement (and the club is specific about that term) works. And there’s a lot of work to do.

The busiest time for the Oak Hill club is 5 p.m. every day when dinner is served. King said she’ll hear kids talk about it being the last thing they’ll eat till school breakfast the next day.

“I just wonder what happens in their lives Friday through Sunday,” she said.

Hence, topping her list is growing support to add Saturday programming.

“If there’s an unmet need, it’s that. They need a place to go on Saturday.”

I understand there’s a certain streak in our thinking, when you read the above, that it’s just another freebie; another handout to accomplish nothing.

Great things grow under the right light — like a good garden.

I’m glad that 30 years after I walked out my club’s doors, I have a chance to be part of it again.

The Club is a chance to grow. You can see it on Oak Hill Avenue.

I feel blessed to see it in the mirror.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at He blogs, too, on Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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