May 19

Tim Irwin’s annual bass tournament ‘a labor of love’


Light had barely broken over Tellico Lake Saturday, when the first of three groups of two-man boats — 206 in all, that each paid $225 — hit the water at the Tellico Canal Ramp in Lenoir City.

About nine hours later, the 28th annual Irwin Food City Bass Tournament was complete, as each team brought its five biggest bass to the scales, hoping to be one of the top five teams that won cash awards.

Joel Wheelon of Rockford and Jason Chambers of Maryville, fishing buddies for 25 years, won the top prize of $10,500 with a weight of 21.18 pounds. They used mostly jig baits and fished around many different boat docks.

The tournament is directed by Knox County Juvenile Court Judge Tim Irwin and benefits the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley.

Irwin, a Knoxville native and a member of the Boys and Girls Clubs growing up, was a four-year offensive tackle for Tennessee in the late 1970s, earning All-SEC honors his senior year. He also played 14 years in the NFL, 13 with the Minnesota Vikings.

Earning his law degree in 1990, he practiced law until 2005, when he was appointed Juvenile Court judge.

Irwin started the tournament with his father in 1989 as a way to promote his love of fishing and to thank the Boys and Girls Clubs for how it had helped him.

“Football wasn’t quite over but I could see the end coming, so we discussed how I could give back,” he said. “I’d been a member of the Boys and Girls Clubs so I wanted to use that vehicle to give back.”

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Tennessee Valley serve 19 facilities in Knox, Loudon, Blount and North Anderson counties, providing a variety of services from school tutoring, kindergarten, meals, and even swimming lessons.

Food City has been the event’s main sponsor — one of many — for 18 years. Emerson Breeden, Director of Community Relations, is proud for the grocery chain to be involved.

“Our main concern is to help the kids,” he said. “The Boys and Girls Clubs is a very worthy organization and we’re very glad to be a part of it.

“Today has been an amazing day for our kids,” said Clubs’ Director of Special Events Amanda Brummerstedt. “Any day we can raise money for our kids, then we’re doing something right in our community.”

Saturday’s tournament raised about $75,000 for the Clubs, and Irwin believes the event has now surpassed $1 million total.

It’s been a labor of love,” he said.

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May 19

More than 200 volunteers build unique and special playground


More than 200 volunteers worked Thursday to build a playground. However, they said it was more than a just playground to them. They were working to build an environment of learning and a safe haven for children in the Mid-South.

With all hands on deck, volunteers from across the country joined forces to build what they describe as a brain-expander, friend-maker, and muscle-builder in the Hickory Hill area. In fact, they did it in just six hours.

“It’s going to give the kids a place to come play on the playground, have a good time, meet up with each other, build some more relationships, more friendships,” Jeff Pendregrass said. “It’s going to do a lot for the kids here in the community.”

Through the $5 million partnership, The CarMax Foundation and KaBOOM! are building playgrounds throughout the United States.

This one, however, will be one-of-a-kind because students at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Memphis helped design it through a drawing contest.

“We were fortunate to be selected for a playground here in the Hickory Hill area,” Vinson Smith, Vice President of Operations for the Boys and Girls Club, said. “It’s important to our kids because kids need to have the opportunity to play.”

Working at max speed, the volunteers teamed up in groups to get the playground finished in just one day.

Organizers believe it will be a place of opportunity for years to come.

“Our number one priority is safety,” Smith said. “Second is fun and then, behind that, supportive relationships.”

“It’s an honor to do it, to give back to the community,” Pendregrass said. “CarMax is a great company and we would love to give back to our community, especially here in the hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.”

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May 03

U.S. Cellular, Boys & Girls Clubs partner to improve STEM education, career exploration

U.S. Cellular and the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Clinch Valley in Oak Ridge announced a donation of $5,000 for 2016 science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, programming.

This contribution will expand efforts to help Oak Ridge students succeed in school and prepare for future careers, a press release said. Together with Boys & Girls Clubs of America, U.S. Cellular is committed to building better communities by championing K-12 educational programs.

This is the second year U.S. Cellular will support academic programming at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Clinch Valley and nearly 60 additional club locations this year, with an emphasis on promoting literacy, STEM learning, and career exploration and preparation, the press release said.

“U.S. Cellular’s ongoing commitment to Boys & Girls Clubs of America is a reflection of our dedication to big and small cities, as well as rural communities we serve across the country,” said Nathan Waddell, director of sales for U.S. Cellular in Tennessee. “As we enter our second year, we are excited to continue to work with this organization to focus on STEM programming, as it is an important way to help youth develop relevant career and leadership skills.”

Supported programs at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Clinch Valley include educational and academic success programs, such as Youth of the Year.

“It is our mission to help youth achieve success in all areas of life,” said Jennifer Pettyjohn, chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Clinch Valley. “With support from U.S. Cellular, we hope to inspire interest in important STEM subjects, continuing education initiatives and presentation, and interview skills that will translate into careers in STEM or any sustainable career path.”

To enhance academic achievement among youth, U.S. Cellular also engages its associates in ongoing volunteer opportunities, such as mentoring and hands-on learning experiences at local clubs. To further expand their impact, U.S. Cellular associates are once again participating in National Volunteer Month in April with the company’s annual “Month of Giving” program. After surpassing last year’s inaugural goal of 30,000 volunteer hours, U.S. Cellular announced a goal of 35,000 volunteer hours for 2016.

U.S. Cellular has a longstanding commitment to the community and education and has contributed more than $8.35 million to local educational programming since 2009, the press release said.

For more information, visit

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Apr 16

2016 Tennessee State Youth of the Year Competition

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Apr 12

Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis IT Career Program


Memphis-area teens were given a rare opportunity to get a head start in a career field with one of the highest projected growth rates by 2020 – the tech industry. Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis kicked off a new IT career training program in November, in collaboration with Tech 901, Regions Bank, the Building IT Futures Foundation and ProTech, a Memphis-based technology solutions and staffing company.

Keith Blanchard, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis, explained, “Today’s students aim high from a surprisingly early age. Aspirational teens, as young as 12, are already planning for a future career with big-name multinational corporations like Apple or FedEx. So, our team at the Club, in partnership with several stakeholders, developed a unique IT training program at our Juice Plus+ Technical Training Center.” Youth meet in the JuicePlus+ Technical Training Center at Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis for their IT training program.

The program is offered free of charge, and classes build toward CompTIA A+ certification, a computer technician certification that many local employers require for entry-level jobs in the IT industry. Teen Club members also receive a $200 stipend to cover travel expenses to and from classes, and extensive mentoring from area professionals. The Club received over 70 applications from prospective participants, with representation from five high schools. The inaugural class began November 9. Teen participant Tyronica Ashley shared her enthusiasm: “I became a part of this program because I don’t think there are enough female leaders in this field, and I want to help change that.”

The classes, which are held for two hours a day after school, four days a week, can also count as college credit if students decide to go to college instead of immediately joining the tech industry. Either way, the classes provide area high school seniors with the opportunity to receive valuable mentoring, obtain internships and gain the skills they need to move quickly into the IT career field. Darien Denson, a participant in the program, credits the Club for his focus on an IT career: “The Boys & Girls Club and Tech901 have given me the chance to do something I never dreamed possible.”

The Club saw a need in their community, approached stakeholders and donors with a bold plan to address it, and is now providing a comprehensive program to Club teens interested in IT careers.

Apr 01

2016 Tennessee State Youth of the Year








It is with great pleasure that Boys & Girls Clubs of America announces the 2016 Tennessee State Youth of the Year winner from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Maury County, Brandon Levier.  Brandon has been a member of the Club for four years and is a senior at Columbia Central High School where he has been a four year starter on Central’s varsity basketball team.

From orientation to the Youth of the Year announcement, the 2016 Tennessee State Youth of the Year event was one to remember. Nineteen teens from the state of Tennessee converged in Nashville, Tennessee for a three-day fun-filled Youth of the Year competition. Eighteen Club members competed for the title of the 2016 Tennessee State Youth of the Year and one individual was named the 2016 Tennessee State Military Youth of the Year. The event’s festivities included opportunities for youth to meet and get to know each other, completion of a community service project, attendance at a Nashville Predators Hockey Game and culminated with a grand Youth of the Year luncheon. It was at this luncheon that more than 125 attendees witnessed the Tennessee Titans provide $25,000 worth of scholarships to our Youth of the Year winners.  Along with our national sponsors Disney, Toyota, Taco Bell Foundation for Teens and the University of Phoenix, this event celebrated and supported the dreams and academic aspirations of our young people.   

The legislative agenda that ran parallel to the Youth of the Year event was incredibly aggressive, and included, but was not limited to a Legislative reception, testimony before both the House and Senate as well as the Legislative Black Caucus.  A photo with the Governor of the State of Tennessee rounded out the Youth of the Year celebration.     

Apr 01

Brandon Levier named 2016 Tennessee Youth of the Year

12717874_944694858971473_1517551740102058630_nLast weekend, Columbia Central High School senior Brandon Levier was outside the Sprint store on James Campbell Boulevard, spinning a sign and earning extra money for college.

Afternoons were long, sometimes hot and boring, and friends occasionally would drive by, honk and giggle as he tried to convince customers to walk into the electronics store.

The menial labor did not matter to the 18-year-old basketball player, who knew he would need cash, even with the Tennessee Promise and a possible athletic scholarship in his future.

“Whatever I do, I give it my best,” Levier said. “I always have been a hard-working kid. I was looking for a job opportunity, and that was the first thing that popped up. If I have to get on my hands and knees and scrub a floor, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Levier’s best was good enough Wednesday, resulting in a life-changing moment for the four-year starter on Central’s varsity.

The former Columbus, Ohio, resident, who moved to Columbia in 2012 with his mother and brother, won a $15,000 scholarship as Boys & Girls Club State Youth of the Year. Levier spent Wednesday afternoon having his photo taken with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam instead of spinning a sign.

Levier’s victory was unprecedented, marking the second consecutive time a teenager from the Maury County Boys &Girls Club has won the award.

Ketron Hatton became the first Maury County Boys & Girls Club member to win in 2015 and earned a $5,000 scholarship. Hatton will join the Navy after he graduates from Central in May.

The scholarship money tripled this year with support from the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, who donated $10,000 to the winner, $8,000 to the runner-up and $7,000 to the third-place finisher. The Boys & Girls Club, through corporate sponsorship, provided the other $5,000.

Levier was swamped during a victory celebration at the Boys & Girls Club on West 8th Street later Wednesday. Club members cheered for him as they had for Hatton last year. His mother, seamstress Alma Franklin, wiped away tears as she soaked in her son’s accomplishment.

“When he first came to the Boys & Girls Club, he didn’t want to be here,” Franklin said. “He thought it was like babysitting. The building was broken down, and he didn’t know anyone.

“Now, four years later, it’s like a family. The club is being renovated, and Brandon has been rebuilt as a person.”

As Hatton interviewed for the title last year, Levier went with him to Nashville for support and learned about the process along the way. He said that was a big factor in winning.

“Going in, I felt pretty good,” Levier said. “I practiced my speech and my interview. It was up to me to pull it together.”Boys & Girls Club CEO Chris Poynter, Teen Director Ulisha Blakesleay and Youth Development Director Chauncey Julius helped mentor Levier.

“Ultimately, I think he won because of his faith, heart, humility and work ethic,” Poynter said. “The competition was extremely tough this year. It was ferocious.

“Brandon did not go to the fanciest school of the group. He did not have the highest grades of the contestants. But the judges saw Brandon’s drive, his passion and commitment to being a leader.”

Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide have put an added emphasis on developing teens, Poynter said.

“Brandon’s victory and Ketron’s victory last year are a tribute to the students, of course, but also to the staff at the club and our board of directors,” Poynter said. “We’re trying to focus on our teens. Special things are happening with our teens in Maury County.”

Levier will receive special recognition at the Boys & Girls Club’s Great Futures Luncheon at Puckett’s Restaurant in Columbia on April 13. He also will advance to a regional competition in Atlanta, where he will have a chance to win more scholarship money.

“It will be an exciting moment for us to introduce him as the Youth of the Year,” Poynter said.

In basketball at Central, Levier was the District 8AAA MVP and hopes to play in college for either Columbia State Community College or Austin Peay State University.

“This award lets everyone know what we as the coaching staff have known for four years,” Central Coach Hal Murrell said. “Brandon is a very dedicated and focused young man who wants to succeed and goes about it the correct way — by not cutting corners and coming in early and staying late. He puts in the work.

“Brandon has the capabilities to do great things with his future on or off the court,” the coach said. “Guys like Brandon don’t come around that often. Central High School is very fortunate to have one of their own honored in such a great way.”

Though skeptical of Columbia and Maury County at first, Levier said the change was the right thing.

“I’m glad we moved,” Levier said. “It was the best for me and my family. The Boys & Girls Club opened me to new experiences. They helped me develop as a young man.”

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Mar 01

Boys & Girls Club works to ensure fellow members in Michigan have drinkable water

Christine Foote with the Bristol Boys and Girls Club shows a photo they used to demonstrate the water in Flint Michigan compared to clean drinking water. Boys and Girls Club members have been raising money to buy water for the Clubs in Flint.

Christine Foote with the Bristol Boys and Girls Club shows a photo they used to demonstrate the water in Flint Michigan compared to clean drinking water. Boys and Girls Club members have been raising money to buy water for the Clubs in Flint.

Members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Mountain Empire want to make sure their fellow members in Flint, Michigan, have clean drinking water.

“Our service project for February is raising money for the Flint, Michigan water crisis,” said Christine Foote, the club’s program specialist director. “We tried to see how much it would be to ship it, but it was so expensive just to ship water there. We thought we would raise the money.”

Flint has been dealing with water issues for quite some time. In April 2014, the city switched from the Detroit water system to using the Flint River as the city’s drinking water source. The decision to not apply corrosion control — now seen as a critical mistake — allowed lead to be scraped from aging pipes into drinking water.

Each month, the children at the local Boys and Girls Club participate in service projects. This month, they are helping fellow children at two Boys and Girls Clubs in Flint.

“We wanted to send a pallet of water,” Foote said. “We are going to pay for it and they can go and pick it up. That’s the most economic way to do it. We knew it would get to a Boys and Girls Club. They can give it to their parents or they just keep it there themselves.”

So far, 32 local children have raised funds for the project. The goal was to raise $500, and they’ve met that goal.

“Our kids had to raise their own money,” Foote said. “They’ve sold candy. We’ve sold Boys and Girls Club bags. We’ve sold ice cream. Everybody is pitching in.”

The time completed to raise money will be marked down for their volunteer hours.

At the end of the month, Foote said, staff will call Sam’s Club and order water and the Michigan clubs can pick it up.

“I told the kids we don’t get to physically give the water to them, but we’re going to take a trip to the Bristol store,” said Foote, adding that it will allow them to see the amount of water that they are purchasing.

The children have also gained a lot of knowledge about the effects of lead in water.

“We take things for granted all the time, like water, in this region,” Foote said. “It broke our heart.”

A simulation was conducted at the club in Bluff City, Tennessee, to demonstrate to the children and their parents the difference between lead-contaminated water and clean water.

“The kids here understand as much as they can about lead,” she said. “They get it. On a child’s level, they understand that it is bad for you. Our kids are great. They just want to help. They are willing to jump in there to do it. They care.”

In the future, Club officials hope to purchase additional items for their Michigan counterparts.

“Each of us is our own individual unit, but we’re a family as a whole,” Foote said.” So giving back to one of our own is rewarding.”

There is also a need for shower filters, paper plates, plastic spoons and forks and wipes, Foote learned from the Michigan clubs.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Mountain Empire have units in Abingdon, Virginia, Bristol, Virginia, Bristol, Tennessee and Bluff City.

Anyone who would like to make a monetary donation can do so at the Club in Bristol, Virginia, at 334 Rebecca St.

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Feb 23

Pirtle given Champion of Youth Award


Former Daily News Journal Editor Mike Pirtle was awarded the Boys & Girls Clubs of Rutherford County’s Dr. Britt Arnett Champion of Youth Award at the organization’s annual dinner on Thursday.

Pirtle, a 17-year veteran of the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Clubs, became the fourth recipient of the prestigious volunteer award.

Clay Shirley was also recognized as the nonprofit’s new president, replacing Jimmy Woods.

The award recognizes “outstanding commitment to our youth, community and clubs. The vision, courage, enthusiasm and leadership you provide, is an inspiration to us all,” said Kelly Rollins, who presents the award annually.

Rollins noted the qualities the award represents were those demonstrated by Arnett, who died in 2012 after a brief battle with cancer. Arnett served for several years as a board volunteer and was the vice president of Resource Development when he died.

Rollins, Pat Murphy and Jimmy Jobe are previous recipients of the award.

Pirtle was on the board for 17 years, including eight as secretary, before stepping down in February 2015.

During the awards presentation, Rollins credited Pirtle’s willingness to help the board “make difficult decisions and present the motions to address them.”

“Pirtle was a true force and advocate for our capital campaign in 2008, which eventually led to opening our new Smyrna unit in 2010,” Rollins noted.

Today, the Smyrna unit has the largest daily attendance of clubs in Tennessee. Boys & Girls Clubs of Rutherford County operates units in Murfreesboro, Smyrna and Shelbyville, serving more than 3,000 members annually and providing transportation services for more than 750 children daily from more than 45 schools across Rutherford and Bedford counties.

To make a donation, volunteer or to find out more about your Boys & Girls Clubs, please visit our website at

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Feb 16

Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis Builds Great Futures through Hands-On Skills Training

training_centerThe Boys and Girls Club of Greater Memphis knows a highly trained workforce is the backbone of a strong local economy. After identifying the fastest growing careers in Memphis, they started engaging area youth in hands-on skills training for those very jobs.

“Boys & Girls Clubs are places where great futures are started each and every day,” said Keith Blanchard, CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis. “Our programs and services promote and enhance the development of boys and girls by instilling a sense of competence, usefulness, belonging and influence. Boys & Girls Clubs are a safe place to learn and grow – all while having fun.”

The organization began in Memphis in 1969 with a goal of mentoring young men in the community but its role has expanded to include girls. Its methods have also changed over time in response to societal shifts.

“An increasing number of children are at home with no adult care or supervision,” explained Blanchard. “Young people need to know that someone cares about them. Without organizations like ours, kids are left to find their own recreation and companionship in the streets.”

To meet this need, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis (BGCM) provides youth programs across the city conducted by trained professionals. The organization currently operates six traditional club sites and a residential summer camp. The staff continually evaluates the needs of their kids and the results of their programs to improve and evolve with the changing times.

One of the most unique elements of the organization is BGCM’s Juice Plus+ Technical Training Center. Unemployment is a major issue for young people across Shelby County; even young people with college degrees often find it difficult to land a job.

“Though the standard of education in Memphis has improved in recent years, there is still a shortage of vocational and technical training opportunities,” said Blanchard. “Most of the focus in the education sector has been towards academic subjects. One of the most frustrating things about the public education system is the way it tends to lump everyone together. I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but somewhere along the line the importance of having education standards morphed into an emphasis on the importance of standardizing education.”

“It seems like people sometimes forget how much we need skilled workers. A highly trained workforce is the backbone of a strong, diverse economy. Not everybody wants to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a business executive—and that’s a good thing. We as a society could not function if they did,” concluded Blanchard.

In response to this issue, and after a careful evaluation of the Memphis job market, one of BGCM’s major supporters, Jay Martin, helped them develop a world-class vocational training program at the Juice Plus+ Technical Training Center.

The Juice Plus+ Technical Training Center of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis (TTC) is a 24,000 square foot facility that offers training for members, ages 16 to 21, in some of the fastest growing career fields in Memphis – culinary arts, tower gardens/gardens to groceries, logistics, welding, automotive, customer service and, most recently, information and technology. The program enrolls 250 to 300 students each year, with 100 percent of graduates going directly into jobs, the military or college.

“The program takes the mission of BGCM to the next level,” said Blanchard. “Young people face a difficult conundrum:  they can’t get a job without experience, but they can’t get experience without first landing a job. The TTC provides students with invaluable experience and training. It’s all about giving these young people a way to support themselves.”

“For example, in the culinary program, there’s a commercial kitchen and dining area at the TTC where students in the culinary program learn how to work in either the front-of-house (serving, catering) or back-of-house (cooking, food prep) food service operations,” explained Blanchard.

As a nonprofit organization, Blanchard said that volunteers are the core of their organization.

“Volunteering is an enormous resource to our nonprofit organization and the communities we serve. Volunteers serve on our boards, they are mentors to our youth and they work countless hours at our fundraising events,” said Blanchard. “Volunteering is a powerful, practical and sustainable way to tackle poverty and inequality, all of which are issues that Boys & Girls Clubs deal with each and every day.”

“It’s the overall experience that is so powerful. Sometimes it’s the simple things, like that big smile you see on a child’s face when he or she solves a difficult task, or the high five you get from a kid at the end of a game. But benefits of volunteering also include new networking contacts, development of new skills, an enhanced resume, new work experience, greater self-esteem and self-confidence, and meeting new people. But for me, the most important thing is feeling valued and having made a difference in someone’s life.”

Interested in supporting Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis? See a list of available volunteer opportunities at Volunteer Memphis.

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