February 26th, 2015
A very-Memphis organization is celebrating its 60th anniversary this week. 60 years of an all-guy bunch, all under 35, all acting like guys. 60 years of fundraising that felt like a party. I can’t tell you how many friends I made because I was in The Phoenix Club or what they’ve meant to me over the years. I can’t tell you how proud I was to serve as president and prouder still to see my son follow me in that office decades later.
I can tell you that the Boys & Girls Clubs are here because The Phoenix brought them, and there’s just no telling the difference that’s made.
You can see it in the eyes of thousands of kids.
As published in The Daily News, February 27, 2015, and in The Memphis News, February 28-March 6, 2015
(photo: Camp Phoenix work party, 1977 (l. to r.) Rick Winchester, Allan Wade, Dan Conaway)
I learned recently that Leadership Memphis is raising $50,000 to start something called Expanding Horizons College & Career Tours, taking 400 promising students from their SUCCESS High School program in eight Memphis schools on college tours in June. These are students who couldn’t make a trip like this on their own, many who’ve never been anywhere with an opportunity to go somewhere. The Turley Family Foundation is matching every donation up to $25,000.
These are 400 students who will be given a broader view of the world, 400 Memphis kids who will see that more is possible. I learned long ago that narrower views limit everything.
Back when the earth was cooling, I belonged to a young men’s organization called The Phoenix Club. You joined in your 20s and you had to get out at 35. Kind of a bridge between a fraternity and the Rotary, between a toga party and responsible behavior, The Phoenix is party philanthropy.
They have a very good time for very good reason.
It began with a group of friends home from the Korean War and college looking for something meaningful to do. After several fitful starts and stops, they formed The Phoenix Club from the ashes of their initial efforts, invited The Boys Clubs to town, hired the first executive director, and dedicated their support to that singular cause. That was 60 years ago, and today the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis serve thousands of kids in six clubs, the Technical Training Center and at Camp Phoenix on Sardis Lake.
It’s a great concept really – direct all that youthful energy and imagination toward one purpose, make raising the money a celebration, and make friends that will last a lifetime, all the while grooming future club board members, central board members and lifetime support.
But all the fun I had aside, beyond all the friendships made and sustained, what I saw while in The Phoenix has shaped my vision for this city. At Camp Phoenix, I saw kids see a lake for the first time, water big and wide enough to float a dream. I saw them see more stars than they knew existed, brighter possibilities than they’d imagined. In the clubs, I saw them stand straighter, taller, able to look you in the eye, able to laugh, able to do what they haven’t done. I saw them see. I saw them rise.
I saw a Memphis I didn’t grow up in, a childhood I didn’t know, an eye-opening reality.
The more inner city kids get out of their circumstances, however briefly, to see what they haven’t seen, the more they’ll know is out there. The more support they’re given, the more they’ll see in themselves.
We can’t envision their experience from a background of love and indulgence; we can’t know what we’re missing in the future when we’ve missed nothing in the past.
Stop by any Boys & Girls Club and see for yourself.
I’m a Memphian, and my eyes are open.
If you don’t read it, I’ll read it to you.
The book is available in print online and all over town and now in audio online at Amazon, Audible and iTunes, read by the author – columns, comments and character references for a city filled with it and often absolutely full of it. Take a look or a listen.