Fifty-five years is an exceptionally long time to remember events so vividly, and yet, warm memories of my adolescence return when I’m privileged to spend time with the selfless volunteers and dedicated staff who support the mission of the Boys and Girls (B&G) Clubs of the Virginia Peninsula.
Such was the occasion last month when I attended the successful dinner/auction fundraiser, Octoberfest. As I listened to the evening’s impassioned speakers, I was reminded of the individual nurturing received and of lessons learned during the 1960s at the original Girls Club on 50th Street in Newport News. It was there I discovered the importance of mentorship, spending most Saturdays sharing what I learned with younger members.
Our Club song began “Down at the Girls Club we have such fun, learning to be good citizens, cooking and sewing and games to play, and kind loving leaders to guide our way” — pretty simplistic and dated by today’s standards, but positive reinforcement was then, and continues to be, essential to early self-esteem.
There was also quiet time with age-appropriate books and where I began my love of reading. Ask anyone who knew me growing up and they’ll tell you my best friends were Trixie Belden and The Bobbsey Twins, both series introduced to me at my 50th Street second home.
At 14, I was selected by the club to attend a two-week leadership training camp in Waltham, Massachusetts, known as Iron Rail Girls Camp. Week One was spent in remote cabins, learning outdoor skills that included canoeing and lifesaving swimming techniques. As a result of these skills, I later applied as a day camp counselor teaching lessons on Lake Maury at Mariners’ Museum.
Sharing campfire dinners with attendees from across the East Coast allowed me to experience, at an early age, a portion of our country’s geographic diversity. As I travel today, I often think of the friendships made that long-ago summer.
Week Two found me in a much more formal setting, polishing my etiquette skills — important then, but essential for today’s youth and young adults in our competitive business environment. I firmly believe that my club experiences over the years laid the foundation for much of what I continued to apply in my adult life. It was a simpler time in a simpler world, but the lessons learned then by this shy and somewhat introverted young lady played a large part in the woman I became.
It was many years later that the Boys and Girls Clubs joined forces and membership continues to surge. Peninsula Clubs have always served as safe havens in which to learn and harbors from often tumultuous surroundings for thousands of today’s most at-risk youth. Their success stories and positive statistics are compelling, and I feel the B&G Clubs of the Virginia Peninsula deserve continued financial and enthusiastic support. As a proud alumnus, I will continue to ensure that outcome.
Sharron Kitchen Miller, a native of Newport News, is a retired pediatric administrator, community leader and volunteer. She is the widow of Senator John Miller, who represented the 1st Senate District for three terms in the Virginia Senate. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.