Community leaders and citizens, alike, gathered for the 2016 Great Futures Luncheon and fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club of Maury County last Wednesday, April 13, for a full house upstairs at Puckett's Gro. of Columbia. This year's headline sponsor was Community First Bank & Trust, and Shaq Mason, local football star turned pro, was the featured speaker.
Drew Parker of Morgan Stanley acted as emcee for the event, breaking out Mason's Central High School football jersey in honor of his football beginnings at the local school before he played at Georgia Tech and was subsequently drafted to the New England Patriots in 2015 as an offensive guard.
Above: Patriots player Shaq Mason with Drew Parker, luncheon emcee.
“One of the greatest contributions that Youth Sports and the Boys & Girls Club make to our community is the addition of great mentors. I’m proud that Shaq and I both share our football coach, Vance Belew, as someone who was and is so formative to who we are as community members,” said Parker.
Above: Pastor and Boys & Girls Club board member Trent Ogilvie
New Board Member of the Year Award went to Trent Ogilvie, pastor of the Bethel Chapel AME Church and the Executive Director/CEO of the Columbia Housing and Redevelopment Corporation. Selected by the board members, the award is given to a new board member who has made the greatest impact in his first year on the Board.
Ogilvie said, "It is always a great honor to be selected by your peers for this award."
The Club Teens performed a moving dance rendition to the powerful song "Break Every Chain," sung by American gospel singer Tasha Cobb. The dance was symbolic of the Club's efforts to break the chains that bind many of the children and teens who attend the Boys & Girls Club, from poverty, poor grades, abuse, lack of self-confidence and social skills, to single-parent or no-parent households, and growing up in rough neighborhoods that can include gangs and drugs infestation.
The youth's exposure to such aberrations was evidenced in signs they held up while Parker shared their stories during a moving demonstration. When he reached the point in their story at which they joined the Boys & Girls Club, the youth flipped the posters around to display words that reflect the positive and transformative changes that have occurred in their lives as a result of the influence of the Club and its staff, volunteers, mentors and supporters.
Above: Brandon Levier who won the 2016 Tennessee State Youth of the Year.
The culmination of such profound changes is reflected and personified in the annual Youth of the Year award, which this year went to Brandon Levier, who also won the 2016 Tennessee State Youth of the Year. Ketron Hatton won the local and state award last year, as well. Chet Nichols, Boys & Girls Clubs of America Director of Organizational Development, noted that this is the first time he has seen a Club win the state title back to back.
For his win, Brandon received $15,000 in scholarship money, thanks to the support of BGCA and the Tennessee Titans. Brandon has overcome the circumstances that surrounded him when his family lived in Columbus, Ohio, and has become a leader in his community. He credits the Boys & Girls Club and its mentors for playing a crucial role in his transformation. He will go on to represent Maury County and Tennessee in the Regional Competition in June, competing amongst the winners from the 13 states that make up the Southeast Region.
Monday, April 18th, 2016 was designated as "Brandon Levier Day" by Maury County Mayor Charlie Norman, in honor of his outstanding achievements.
If Brandon Levier represents the culmination of local success, then the featured guest speaker, Shaq Mason,could be considered the apex in examples of local youth who made it big. And big Mason is, at 6'1" and over 300 pounds. The Patriot's offensive guard was a member of the Boys & Girls Club of Maury County in elementary and middle school before he became involved with football in high school.
Above: John Dwyer interviewing Shaq Mason.
In a lively one-on-one stage interview with former Channel 2 (Nashville) newscaster John Dwyer, Mason said that one day, after his football career is over, he would like to come back to Columbia and work with the youth at the Club. He also said, "Columbia has impacted me just as much as I have impacted it."
When Dwyer asked him about what it's like to be on famed Patriot's quarterback, Tom Brady's team, Mason told the story of the first time he played with him: "The first time I was in the huddle, I got thrown into the fire with him. It was my second week on the job and when he started talking, I suddenly got starstruck. I was staring at him the whole time thinking this is Tom Brady. I was so starstruck that when the huddle broke up, I didn't remember the plays." Fortunately, he added that Brady later told him not to worry about it ... that it wasn't the first time it happened.
Above: Don and Eva James Crichton on left, and Ken Cherry on right.
Ken Cherry was awarded the Don & Eva James Crichton Philanthropist of the Year Award. Resource Development Director of the Boys & Girls Club, Robyn Boshers, said, "Ken was the CEO of Tennessee Rural Health (now Farm Bureau Health Plans) for 43 years, and he and his wife Ramona have been instrumental in not only supporting the Boys & Girls Club, but many other community organizations, as well."
Above: Chris Poynter, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Maury County.
CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Maury County, Chris Poynter, was selected by Boys & Girls Clubs of America to receive the J. Richard Ullom Rookie of the Year Award, in recognition of the tremendous advances he has made in the organization’s capacity to serve children and ability to sustain operations since taking the reins in October of 2013.
In an emotional and moving speech, Poynter told the audience, "I cannot win the game by myself. It takes everyone in this room and then some to transform a life. We are transformers; we are change agents. If we want to produce more Shaq Masons, then we can, but we have to make up our minds to do it."