Boys and Girls Club mentor paying it forward

'Boys & Girls Club changed my life'

Fabian Woodard-Sidney, at left, is all smiles as Donell Burns kids with him during after-school care at East Elementary School. Burns is a Lincoln University student and part-time staffer at the Boys & Girls Club of the Capital City. Woodard-Sidney is a fourth-grader at the school who gains confidence and a positive message from his time with Burns. Today is the annual United Way Community Campaign Kickoff which raises money for groups like the Boys and Girls Club.

Fabian Woodard-Sidney, at left, is all smiles as Donell Burns kids with him during after-school care at East Elementary School. Burns is a Lincoln University student and part-time staffer at the Boys & Girls Club of the Capital City. Woodard-Sidney is a fourth-grader at the school who gains confidence and a positive message from his time with Burns. Today is the annual United Way Community Campaign Kickoff which raises money for groups like the Boys and Girls Club. Photo by Julie Smith.

He’s known at the Boys and Girls Club of the Capital City as Mr. D.

Kids emulate him. They ask him where he got his gym shoes, and what he likes to read.

Twenty-six-year-old Donell Burns is a mentor.

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Donell Burns directs students to get their snacks while at East School for afters chool care. Burns is a part-time staffer at the Boys & Girls Club of the Capital City and works each day after school to provide students with a safe place to stay until they are picked up by a parent.

He grew up with a mentor at the Boys & Girls Club in Chicago. But the road to safe haven at the club was not a pleasant one for a 9-year-old.

“I was in a situation,” Burns said. “My grandmother asked me to go to the store and an older kid in the neighborhood stopped me to go with him, so I chose to go with him.”

He said the duo was walking down the street when a car drove past and fired shots.

“He told me to duck, and by that time, he was already down on the ground,” Burns said. “I ran.”

Burns’ friend was killed. Not realizing he had also been shot, Burns ended up in the back yard of Gregory Johnson, who worked at the Boys & Girls Club.

The child gave the older man his phone number to call his parents.

“We went to the hospital, and he stayed with me,” Burns said. “He stayed in contact with me. He would have me come over to his house and do odd jobs and stuff, and then he started telling me about the Boys & Girls Club.”

Burns decided to give the club a chance.

“I really didn’t want to go at first,” Burns said. “But, the more I started to go there, the more I started to enjoy it.

“I started working with the kids who were younger than me, and then they started looking up to me.”

Burns came to Jefferson City to attend Lincoln University in 2006. He started working as a youth development professional at the Boys & Girls Club of the Capital City nearly a year ago.

He said working at the Boys & Girls Club allows him to help the kids that need him most.

‘It’s like water in a garden,” Burns said. “The more you take care of it, the more the garden grows.

“If you take care of these kids, in a way, they keep growing.”

The Boys & Girls Club of the Capital City is a partner agency of the United Way of Central Missouri, which kicks off its community campaign today at Capitol Plaza Hotel. The campaign goal is to raise $1.7 million for the United Way and its 24 partner agencies.

The United Way is the largest funding source for the Boys & Girls Club of the Capital City.

Stephanie Johnson, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Capital City, said the United Way plays a vital role in helping the club reach its mission.

“It helps provide role models for children,” she said.

She said the club is finding more and more individuals in the Jefferson City community who say they “grew up in the club.”

“It means the Boys & Girls Club had an impact on their lives,” Stephanie Johnson said. “Then, like Donell, they want to pay it forward, and it almost comes full circle.”

With his involvement at the club, Burns mentors Fabian Woodard, a 9-year-old from Jefferson City.

“Fabian’s father passed away, so it means a little more to me because he doesn’t have a father,” Burns said.

He said one of his most vivid memories of working at the Boys & Girls Club is of a note he received from a little girl. She told Burns he was the best teacher she had ever had, and that she’d rather stay at the club than go home.

“It says a lot on so many levels,” Burns said. “They need a Boys & Girls Club to somewhat express themselves in a way, whether it’s art or playing basketball.

“They need that escape because they deal with so much.”

Stephanie Johnson said a majority of the children who attend the Boys & Girls Club come from single parent homes and need that extra support.

Burns said he didn’t realize the effect Gregory Johnson had on him as a child.

“You don’t appreciate the little stuff as much when you’re young,” he said.

He now realizes the impact Gregory Johnson and the Boys & Girls Club have had on his life.

“It made me realize I have a purpose,” Burns said. “I think everything happens for a reason, and Boys & Girls Club changed my life.”

Correction: Fabian Woodard-Sidney's name was misspelled in the original version of the photo accompanying this article. It has since been corrected.

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