TUPELO – Stephanie Parrish always planned to volunteer with Boys & Girls Clubs after she graduated college and got a job.
Now she doesn’t have to – she works there every day.
Since mid-November, Parrish has been the unit director for the Haven Acres Boys & Girls Club in Tupelo. A 2009 graduate of South Pontotoc High School, Parrish graduated from the University of Mississippi and received her masters degree in counseling last summer.
“I worked at the Oxford Boys & Girls Club when I was at Ole Miss and I knew I liked what they did and what the program stands for,” said Parrish. “I thought I would volunteer for them once I got a job. Then I saw this job online and I applied.
“I never thought I would hear back but I did, and everything happened pretty quick.”
Parrish took over the Haven Acres unit from long-time director Mattie Mabry. But instead of retiring fully, Mabry has stayed on in a part-time role to help Parrish with the transition.
“She has been a big help, not only with the administration and paperwork side, but with learning about the children,” said Parrish. “Not only does she help me with the names, she can tell me stories about each one so I get a better understanding of who they are and what they like.
“It’s not my idea to change everything, but having Miss Mattie here makes it easier to implement new things.”
Parrish hopes to add things to not only keep children interested but also recruit new members. She hopes to add more activities outside of the club house, such as field trips.
“I have a lot of contacts with Itawamba Community College and Ole Miss and plan on bringing in more people, both as speakers and for activities,” said Parrish. “I would also like to start more clubs, like a sign language club and a cooking club – whatever there is interest in.
“If we have kids who want to do career readiness activities, we’ll do that. If they are more interested in sports, we’ll do teams.”
While the 25-year-old director is not that much older than some of the club members (B&CG serves children 6-18), she understands the importance of her job and the role both she and the club can play in the lives of youth.
“I am not their parent, but I can set an example,” said Parrish. “My job is to teach them values, respect and morals. We work with the parents and the schools to get them ready to go out into the real world.
“Schools are geared toward standardized tests and academics. They don’t always get to fundementals or character buildings. We can work on those to help make them better people.”
For the younger kids, she wants to teach them the right way to use a computer or a smartphone and how to avoid predators. For older members, it will be more about career choices and college preparation.
A recent exercise has the members pick and choose the life they wanted to live, then calculated how much they would have to make each year.
“Some found out they would have to make $1.5 million a year to have everything they wanted and it forced them to stop and rethink things,” said Parrish. “It was a fun exercise, but it made them start thinking more seriously about what they wanted to do in life and what it was going to take to get there.”
Her long-range goal is to increase the average daily attendance at the club. The Haven Acres unit average around 55 students a day. Parrish would like to see closer to 100 students there after school every day, but she knows that might take a little time.
And the one thing she wants to make sure the club keeps is the element of fun.
“I want to give them a chance to be kids,” said Parrish. “We have rules that we enforce and programs to follow, but they should not be punished for being a kid.”