RIPLEY • The Boys & Girls Club of Ripley recently hired a new director, and she says that so far it has been a great opportunity for her to grow in her walk with God.
Latoya Franklin has worked off and on with the Club since 2002, so she’s not new to the Club, but being the director has challenged her in different ways.
She said an average day begins with sign-in, followed by “snacks, of course.” She was especially grateful for Pizza Hut; she said the manager there has “given me six to nine pizzas a day, breadsticks, cheese sticks, and the cinnamon sticks, and if she has time, she’ll make me a pan or two of their pasta. Absolutely free ... I really want them to know I appreciate that.”
Snack time is followed by General Assembly, which is designed “to help the kids with their social skills. I ask them what they learned that day, whose birthday [is that day]. If they raise their hand and say ‘Ms. Toya, I learned something!’ I bring them to the stage, give them the microphone, give them the floor. But they can’t talk to me, they have to talk to the other members to help them with their social skills,” Franklin said.
“Then after that we do Power Hour ... it’s total concentration hour, where they’re doing homework. They also have access to Wi-Fi that they may not have available elsewhere. They work on their projects or essays – anything dealing with school ... absolutely nothing else.
“After that, we transition over into our program areas; we do a Smart Moves program, a Money Management program, Passport to Manhood, and we also have Smart Girls... all teaching them how to be productive citizens, [as well as] responsibility and critical thinking.”
Social Rec and Gym time follow the programs and then “at the end of the day, as they leave, they get to dig in the prize box, based upon their efforts in Power Hour and General Assembly.”
The club’s hours are from 2:30 – 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Franklin laughed and said, “They call me Mother Hen. So that’s the great thing – I can say something to them to set them back on the right track.” When asked about her favorite aspect of the job, she replied, “I love all of it. I don’t really know how to word it -- it’s all rewarding to me.”
She said she always wanted to work with children; she wanted to open a daycare right after high school, but instead ended up doing retail management and medical jobs for several years. She said being in the medical field “taught me patience and better understanding and helped me to have a better listening ear,” which are all useful skills to have in her new position.
However, she said her biggest challenge has been “doubting myself – that’s the only challenge I’ve really faced. I have learned a lot within myself. I had a lot of self-doubt coming in,” but then along the way she learned “that with God I can do anything.”
The former director, Veronica Hoyle was especially helpful to Franklin in her challenging first days on the job. “She’s really been a great help. She made it look easy – I mean easy. Then my very first day, I called her in tears, saying “I can NOT do this, Ms. V!” Veronica’s response was “Girl, wipe your eyes before your eyelashes come off. Call me when you get home and we’ll talk.” Franklin said that with that conversation, Hoyle re-instilled her confidence, for which she is deeply grateful.
Franklin says her church family at Ripley Second Baptist Church and her pastor Dr. Willie Paine Jr. have been very encouraging to her as well.
She also credited her parents, Hayes and Francine Franklin, with helping to prepare her for life. “They have been outstanding ... they taught me responsibility, they taught me structure of life, they taught me how to handle authority.” To illustrate learning about responsibility at a young age, she told the story of getting her first car: “I had to go and raise $3,000 – that’s when wages were $5.10 an hour – before I could even get it.”
She said as a single mother, she found herself learning even more from her parents. “Raising my children, I see myself doing things my mother did. Same with my dad – everything a man can do, my dad taught [my sons].”
Her three sons are all active members of the Club. She said that her transition to director wasn’t too hard for them. “The only adjustment that they have to do is that they can’t call me Mama. They will actually send another kid to tell me something, because they don’t want to say ‘Ms. Latoya.’ They hate that. But that’s the only challenge that they have. They still walk the line; I still expect the same actions that I do at home. They’re good kids,” she concluded.
Franklin said she has seen a lot of support from the community, “but I would love more, in all honesty,” she laughed. For those who want to join the club, applications are in her office, and membership fees are $50 per year, with discounts for multiple children. There is also a program through the Department of Health and Human Services in which fees are waved for those who qualify.
She said there are also positions for volunteers available – all someone wanting to volunteer has to do is go by her office to fill out a volunteer application and get a background check done. The club will call applicants to let them know as soon as all the paperwork is done.
There are a few things expected of volunteers, she said. “They have to show me they can handle last-moment situations, because we’re working with kids – anything can happen. And of course, they have to have a love for the kids.”
She has a few goals, a vision for where she wants to take the club in the near future: “In the next year or so, I would like to see our numbers increase, I would like an extension of the club hours, and I would like to see on certain Saturdays, maybe we can have a team day – a 10 to 12 day or a 6 to 9 day - separate them on a special appointed day.”
She also encourages her kids on an everyday basis. “When they walk out the door, I always remind them to challenge themselves to be a better person tomorrow. No matter what it is; if you don’t like tying your shoes, tie your shoes that day. If you don’t like wearing a belt, wear a belt that day. If somebody opens the door, turn around and tell them thank you. If you see somebody in need of that, you do the same thing. Challenge them to be a better person.
“I take pride in knowing that something I said or did that day at the Boys & Girls Club, they can come back and show me that they did that – grades or their personal challenge. Like if they say “Ms. Toya, look at my feet. My shoes are tied.” When I see that they listen and they put the work in and do what they tell me they’re going to do – I take pride in that.”
She concluded with a few words of advice for others who are pulling themselves up by their bootstraps: “If a single momma of three boys can do it, they can absolutely do it.” She encouraged them “to pray, tell God what they need or want, leave it in His hands, trust .. and sit back and watch Him show out – because that’s exactly what He did.”