A run-down art room sat empty for years at the Beaufort Boys & Girls Club. Inadequate art supplies, peeling walls, outdated equipment, a lack of storage space and no art instructor left much to be desired for the club's once-flourishing art program.
Like so many other organizations, the club had to cut costs and has not been able to afford to renovate the room or pay an art instructor.
"We run a five-core program, and art is one of those programs," Beaufort unit director Sam Burke said. He said the club resorted to simple crayon and paper art projects instead of painting watercolors on canvases. "It was disheartening, to be honest with you."
But Burke said the club did the best it could under the circumstances. And now thanks to a group of local volunteers, the young members of the Beaufort club will once again be able to express their creativity in many artistic ways during club hours.
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As part of BB&T's annual Lighthouse Project, several employees of the Beaufort and Lady's Island branches volunteered their time renovating another room at the club into a top-notch art studio. Burke said they began the work about two and a half months ago, and the club celebrated the grand opening of the new art room June 21.
BB&T Beaufort city executive and senior vice president Eric Lowman said this is the third year the two branches have participated in the corporate initiative to help a nonprofit agency. He said the renovation project has been rewarding for the 22 BB&T employees who participated.
"Not only were we able to make some positive impact for the Boys & Girls Club, which was the No. 1 goal," Lowman said, "but also our employees got a lot out of it as well from a team-building and personal-interaction perspective."
The volunteers spent more than 100 combined hours cleaning, painting, putting in a new sink, installing cabinets and storage areas, and hanging new window treatments. They bought the club various arts and crafts supplies, a laptop and digital cameras for its photography club.
"It's beautiful," Burke said about the room, adding that the children love their new studio. "It's just fantastic. There's just so much we can do now."
And although the club is still struggling financially, they have come up with a plan that will allow them to hire a new full-time art instructor. Burke said the Beaufort and Sheldon clubs hope to share an instructor, who will spend half the time at each of the clubs. He is in the process of finding someone for that position.
"Art right now is being thrown back into the limelight," Burke said.
He said the new and improved art room not only gives the kids a chance to use their creativity, it will also allow them to compete in local and national art programs, exhibits and contests.
He said when he hires an art instructor, the children will begin preparing for the next national Boys & Girls Club fine arts exhibit. Their artwork will be exhibited locally and judged by artists from the community. The best pieces will be sent to a regional site for judging, and the winners there will be sent to the national office in Atlanta to be displayed at the club's annual convention in May 2012. There will be a similar contest for digital photography.
Burke said the most meaningful part about what the BB&T staff did for the club is the physical labor they put into the project.
"For the Boys & Girls Club, with our rich history of being served by the community and serving kids 6-18, to have that kind of organization come in, put the sweat and tears and everything into the work, it's a special room," Burke said.