November 12, 2012 9:58:57 AM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
It is late afternoon when Nadia Dale rushes into the room like a force of nature and plops down with an exhausted sigh for what is likely her first break of the day.
"Sorry, there's just always something to do," she explains.
Dale has been the unit director of the Columbus Boys and Girls Club since Oct. 15 and has been working full force since being handed the keys to the iconic organization.
She is currently working on a series of open houses to breathe new life into the club and attract children of all ages. A product of the club herself, Dale exhibits a personal passion for the Boys and Girls Club and its mission.
A West Point native, Dale moved to New York to pursue her master's degree after graduating from Jackson State University. While studying at New York University, Dale discovered her deep yearning to help children who needed guidance and direction.
She leans back in her chair and you can see her mind drift off to a memory she not only keeps in her mind, but in her heart.
In addition to her studies, Dale spent her time in New York working as a counselor at a non-profit organization called the Wake Up Project, an organization that focused on helping troubled teens. As she tells the story of the time she and her colleagues climbed 30 flights of stairs in the projects to search for a child who failed to show up for school, the look on her face betrays her normally calm demeanor. It is obvious the memory is as vivid as the day it happened.
While venturing into the projects of New York City may seem like a foreign idea to some, for Dale it is simply part of making sure every child knows he or she is important.
The new director of the Boys and Girls Club believes that if children are given the tools to succeed, they can fulfill a destiny beyond their wildest imaginations.
Years after climbing that dark and dangerous stairwell, Dale is still in contact with the child she was on a mission to save. The boy with a troubled past who seemed destined for prison has turned his life around and is now living in South Carolina and going through training to become a police officer.
For Dale, making a difference in the life of one child is why she continues to do the work she does. She doesn't see her actions as extraordinary; she just sees it as meeting a need.
Dale is working to rebuild the Boys and Girls Club to make it the community-suported effort it has been in years past.
Membership has dropped at the club, and a mere 55 children are there every afternoon. That is in stark contrast to an earlier time, when more than 100 children burst through the doors to take advantage of what the club had to offer.
A self-described "problem solver," Dale is working with different organizations in the community to create an environment where children are supported, encouraged, and, perhaps most importantly, loved.
"The community sees the club as being a place to be safe," she said, but that's just one aspect of what it can provide children.
"My perspective is there should be a difference between a kid who has the opportunity to go the club and the ones who don't," Dale says.
Dale has created programs outside of the standard academic support -- "power hour" as it is commonly called at the club -- which encourage artistic development as well. Dale hopes the new music and art programs will enrich the students' lives and show them there are other career options that they may not have considered.
She points to a cluster of a guitar, a vase and a candle as an example. The children have sketched the grouping and Dale is amazed at the talent of the youngsters.
"You look at some of the drawings and you think, 'You did that?'" she says. "We've got some talented kids here."
In addition to the art programs, the club will also focus on college and career development. Dale hopes this will put the children on a path to think about their future beyond getting a high school diploma.
To achieve the goals she has in mind for the club, however, Dale needs the support of the community.
In addition to needing volunteers who can work with the children in the afternoon, Dale is also hoping people will sponsor a child.
The fee for the after school program is $180, and in strained economic times, Dale feels there are some children who are missing out because their parents can't afford the costs.
Dale said she feels fortunate that she was able to attend the club as a child and wishes the same opportunities for every child.
"I feel like I developed a lot here," she said. "I already had a place in my heart but now..."
As her voice trails off and she looks around, it is obvious the love she had for the organization as child has only grown.
With her guidance and passion, the Boys and Girls Club may very well affect the lives of children the same way it has affected its new director.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.