Exploring the possibilities

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BLUFFTON TEENS AND KIDS GET A BOOST FROM BERKELEY HALL

“Willie, get a head count,” officer Oscar Frazier Jr. ordered as he buckled his seatbelt in the van idling at the entrance of the Boys and Girls Club of Bluffton.

“Ten, sir,” high school sophomore Willie Brown Jr. was quick to report.

With that piece of protocol out of the way, the group of middle and high school students left for their weekly trip to the Bluffton police station, this time for a lesson on the K-9 program.

The Wednesday afternoon trips to the Bluffton Law Enforcement Center, Frazier’s mentoring and the students’ black polo shirts decorated with the Explorers logo are all part of a program unique to the Boys & Girls Club of Bluffton and funded by the Berkeley Hall Charitable Foundation. Designed to help Bluffton teenagers form a positive connection with police officers in their community, the Explorers group also introduces them to skills needed to pursue careers in law enforcement.

Brown, a student at Bluffton High School and a member of the Explorers group for several years, is considering becoming a police officer.

“I like the people I’ve met,” he said. “I like how they do things.”

The board of the charitable foundation, which has raised more than $1 million since its inception, has funded the Explorers for the last 10 years because the community’s members want to help at-risk youth. And the connection between Berkeley Hall and the Bluffton Boys & Girls Club goes farther than just giving money. Berkeley Hall member John Charland is a longtime volunteer who provides IT support for the club and helped start a literacy program for members ages 6-10.

“We noticed that many of the kids were below grade level in reading, so we started a reading program,” he said. “After a few months in the program, they’re looking at you, they’re smiling. They start realizing they can do this.”

Charland is quick to praise the safe, nurturing environment the club provides after school and all day during the summer. Among club staff, the feeling is mutual.

“Around here, we love Berkeley Hall,” said Molly Hornbeak, the Bluffton club’s director.

In addition to the Boys & Girls Club, the Berkeley Hall Charitable Foundation recently gave grants to nonprofits groups like Backpack Buddies of Bluffton, Second Helpings, The Literacy Center, Lowcountry Legal Volunteers, Memory Matters, Meals on Wheels, Hopeful Horizons, Bluffton-Jasper County VIM and Vantage Point Foundation.