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Little Lights Chapter 7: Oscar Cross

When Cornelius “Neal” Clark walked into the doors of the Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club of Paducah in January 2019 as its brand-new Chief Executive Officer, the center was hosting an average of 121 students that visited their after-school programs each day. More than 250 students were enrolled in the Club’s programs at that time.

“They weren’t bad numbers,” he says, but he and his staff knew that they could be better.

As he finishes his first full year as leader of the 60-year pillar of development for Paducah’s youth, Neal is proud that he and his staff were able to see exponential growth in those numbers.

“I’m honored to say that we ended up with an average daily attendance of 165 per day for the after-school program and 186 per day for the summer program in 2019. Some days we have 200 kids in our building,” he says.

“Our total enrollment was over 500 kids for the summer and after school program for 2019.  We pretty much doubled our registered population from the 2018 calendar year.”

“On some days this caused space issues or overcrowding, which can be a good problem to have.”

Neal credits the hard work of his staff for the growth, but also the quality programming that the Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club is able to offer students from first grade all the way to high school graduation.

“Our programs are meant to help students become successful people after graduation,” Neal says.

“Ultimately, the end goal is for our kids have the experiences needed for them to be successful in life.”

“In my own words, I like to take a kid who comes through our doors who is bright-eyed and full of potential and be able to give them the skill sets they need to be productive and responsible citizens.”

Through the after-school programs and summer programs, Neal says they work to teach their students how to overcome the challenges that stand in the way of their success or their growth.

“We know that our youth are facing so many challenges these days and that it is tough to be able to reach your full potential with so many different barriers that society has,” he says.

“We want to make sure that we eliminate those barriers or at least have the opportunity to address those concerns, and to give the kids the resources they need to prosper and reach their full potential.”

In one program, called Positive Action, Neal says students are armed with the skills they need to make good decisions in their lives. In several instances, he says, it literally puts kids into difficult situations that mirror real-life and teaches them the best way to determine and make the best decision as a solution.

Neal says that mentoring programs such as the Passport to Manhood and Smart Girls programs are important tools for the Club to use to help inspire good decisions as a pathway to success for students.

“We are truly blessed with our programs,” he says.

The tremendous growth that Neal and his team experienced in his first year is something that he is quite proud of, but certainly is not something he plans to rest upon in his second year. In fact, he has even bigger plans to address that growth head on.

Neal says the Club has many needs, but one goal outweighs the rest.

“Our number one goal nationally is to provide a safe environment for our kids. We want to make sure from a facilities standpoint and a safety standpoint that we address all our needs there first,” he says.

That includes an expansion on their existing property to capitalize on areas that are not being used and, hopefully, to build a playground or area for sports.

“Right now, the kids don’t really have an opportunity to go outside and play in a safe zone. If they go out on the side of the building facing Park Avenue, sometimes a ball could roll into the busy street,” he says.

“If we go out back in the parking lot, we have to block it off where the parents can’t come in to park and pick up their kids. That’s probably the safest place for them, but it’s an inconvenience for the parents.”

There’s another goal that ranks pretty high for Neal, as well.

“We always want to make sure that our kids have fun,” he says.

“We want to make sure that we expose them to different experiences that they otherwise might not have had without coming here.”

“Obviously that takes a lot of resources.”

In his second year, Neal says he plans to strengthen the Club’s relationships with community agencies and to further capitalize on the “overwhelming support” they already receive from the community.

“I couldn’t ask for a better community to walk into and ask for support. Paducah and surrounding communities have supported us tremendously and that’s been a true blessing.”

“I want to make sure that we capitalize on opportunities by being good stewards of our resources.”

“God is in the blessing business, so I keep the Jabez prayer in the forefront of my thoughts, ‘God, broaden my territory so I can bring others closer to you.’”

“These are the words that I speak and I give my trust to Him and He will allow others to see the positive work the Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club is doing for our youth.”

“I want my actions to be pleasing to God so I ask him to order my steps because it’s not about me, it’s about our kids.”

Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club of Paducah Executive Director Neal Clark calls the support that the Club receives from the community “tremendous” but he knows that continued support is critical to them meeting the needs of their more than 500 students.

There are many ways that you can help these kids, and more like them, succeed, including:

  • Volunteering – If you’d like to get involved with the Club’s after-school or summer programs or serve as a mentor to a student, you can call the center or visit their website.
  • Donating – You can donate online, through the mail or in-person to help the Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club continue to provide a safe environment for their students and quality programming to help them become successful adults.
  • Providing Experiences – The Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club of Paducah is always looking for businesses in the community to help teach their students how education goals can translate into successful career opportunities. If your business would like to participate in that program, please get in touch with the Club.

Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club of Paducah
2956 Park Ave.
P.O. Box 203 | Paducah KY 42002
Phone: (270) 444-9124


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