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Helping hands: Volunteers pitch in to build Boys & Girls Club

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Roger Harrell brightens up like a boy at the circus when he talks about the Boys & Girls Club of Bedford County and the army of volunteers who are turning a dream into reality.

Frank Johnson works on interior walls at the Boys & Girls Club of Bedford County.
(T-G Photo by Kent Flanagan)
As area director for the club, Harrell became the No. 1 volunteer when he accepted the opportunity last year to help create a club from scratch in a community that has never had one. For Harrell, this is his 22nd Boys & Girls Club in a career that has spanned more than 27 years and five states.

Lots of workers

"From the time we acquired the building -- I think it was Dec. 28 that we signed the papers -- and we came back in the first week of the year and started the demolition, it just seemed like every step through the process that when we needed something or someone to do something -- you know, skilled labor or just manpower -- that somebody just stepped up to the plate to volunteer," he said.

Harrell can cite example after example of the volunteerism that have made him even more committed to turn the former Pizza Inn into one of the best Boys & Girls Clubs in the country -- with the continuing help of his board of directors and willing volunteers.

"I have never worked in a community where not only businesses but individuals have provided what you need on a volunteer basis," he said. "You know, materials, labor, consultation on expert areas that I don't have. Just everywhere we turn, somebody's meeting the need.

"It's just unbelievable, this community. You can tell that the people here really want a Boys & Girls Club even though the majority of the people still do not understand who we are and what we are about."

Community steps in

Harrell and his "wrecking crew" had been in the building "only a couple of days with sledge hammers and tools tearing apart the subfloor and just tearing stuff out, and we were talking about the idea of building benches all the way around the wall in the games room to maximize the space."

Roger Harrell wants to get some outdoor sports going soon at the Boys & Girls Club. First Community Bank, Walmart Distribution Center and Shelbyville Power, Water and Sewerage System are cooperating on getting basketball goals and facilities.
(T-G Photo by Kent Flanagan)
He told board president Barry Childers, "You know, I can do that. I'm kind of a carpenter by hobby, but I don't know if I have the time with everything else that's going on."

But Harrell didn't have to do it himself, because a few minutes later the phone rang. A woman called, saying, "I understand you're renovating the old Pizza Inn. My husband is wanting to volunteer."

Soon after that conversation, Marvin Parker, a local contractor, arrived and "probably spent 400 or 500 hours" helping with the renovation.

Harrell said Parker was responsible for installing the benches and the storage area beneath them as well as a lot of the trim work -- "a lot of the skilled carpentry things I can do, but I'm definitely not on his level.

"He built the benches, built all the cubicles and all the trim work and the framing for the windows and doors and has even stopped back by asking, 'Is there anything else you need?" Harrell recalled.

It turns out that Parker had a personal interest in the building. He helped with initial construction in 1979.

About the same time, another man with dry wall skills asked to help with the project of putting in new walls. His name is Frank Johnson.

"Frank spent many hours up here just finishing Sheetrock" and helping out on other tasks. Johnson said he became interested in helping after he noticed his 9-year-old nephew and two other boys about the same age with time on their hands. He wanted Shelbyville to have a place where youngsters like his nephew could spend their time without getting into trouble.

Construction leader

And then there is Jim Thompson, owner of Thompson Services Unlimited of Rockvale in Rutherford County.

Harrell contacted Thompson, an old friend and colleague who served on the board of the Boys & Girls Club in Columbus, Ga., when Harrell worked there in the '90s.

Jim Thompson and Tennessee Technology Center at Shelbyville student Joe Johnson work on the HVAC at the Boys & Girls Club.
(T-G Photo by Kent Flanagan)
Thompson had retired from Atmos Energy and returned to Rockvale where he started his business, specializing in heating and air conditioning systems, electrical and plumbling.

Harrell said Thompson was "a foster child who has given back to every community he's ever been in.

"He stepped in and took over the lead role as the project manager." Thompson coordinated the plumbers, the ceiling and the floor people.

"He added a professional touch to what I had been doing," said Harrell. "He was able to come in and help our board visualize what we have now. And Jim has the skills and experience and volunteerism and philanthropic mind to help make it happen."

Club opens

From the gift of the building at 1055 Madison to the efforts of many gifted individuals to donations of materials, the former pizzeria turned into a Boys & Girls Club that opened for its first "customers" in late March.

"If you retailed out the price of what we've done here," said Harrell, "it would have been about $90,000, but we have less than $20,000 in it because people like Adcock Construction stepped up to the plate with numerous donations of materials."

Harrell singles out the club's board of directors for special recognition.

The board is "so invested in this organization that there are four committees on the board that have been meeting weekly for some time now working on the Steak & Chicken Dinner and all of the logistics that the staff normally take care of -- the decorations, the table setup, the meal."

The commitment of the board "mirrors the commitment of the community. The more they learn, the more they want to get involved," Harrell said.

The list of volunteers and contributions grows longer every day.

A new look

Harrell's attention has turned to the exterior of the building.

"It's important to understand when people drop by 1055 Madison Street," he said, "they don't see any change because with the exception of the fence everything has been inside the building. So, we still have people waiting to sign up call and say, 'Where are you located, again?'

While the section of property behind the Boys & Girls Club is not yet ready for play, club area director Roger Harrell has started some vegetable plants to teach children about gardening.
(T-G Photo by Kent Flanagan)
"We're in the process of having the sign made -- a lighted sign -- so that when people drive by at night, that Boys & Girls Club sign" will be noticed, Harrell continued.

First Community Bank, next door, has offered the use of a grass-covered area behind the bank for club activities while the bare earth behind the club is converted into play space.

The Wal-Mart Distribution Center is contributing their in-kind services to build and install heavy-duty basketball goals in the former parking area along the side of the building. Shelbyville Power is helping with the basketball goals by offering to cut through the solid rock about four feet under the surface to anchor the goalposts.

"We are planning this summer to have a work day -- a community work day," Harrell said. "We have not set the date yet. But we're going to be painting the outside of the building and sprucing up and doing some landscaping around the sign.

"We've come a long way, but we still have a lot things to do."

Among the many volunteers who have given their time, energy and skills to complete the interior of the Boys & Girls Club of Bedford County are Frank Johnson, (above) who helped with new interior walls, and Jim Thompson, (top photo) who installed the club's HVAC system with help in this photo from Joe Johnson, a Tennessee Technology Center student.

While the section of property behind the Boys & Girls Club is not ready for play, club area director Roger Harrell has started some vegetable plants to teach children about gardening.

Roger Harrell wants to get some outdoor sports going soon at the Boys & Girls Club with the help of First Community Bank next door and new basketball goals to be donated and installed by Wal-Mart Distribution Center with an assist from Shelbyville Power.

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