BRADEN PINES — There’s not much Carl Weeks loves more than grabbing a frying pan and heading to the ping pong table at a local Boys & Girls Club.
“I have kids lining up,” Weeks said, laughing. “It’s new and different — and a little crazy. Kids should come to the club to have fun.
“Just being able to have a positive impact on a child is what keeps the fire going,” he said.
This month, Weeks celebrated his 40th year working with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee. As the organization’s executive director, the Braden Pines resident has made it his life mission to make sure kids are having fun — but with purpose.
The organization on Nov. 13 also held its first Alumni Celebration, an event intended to garner the support of former members and welcome the community to the club’s new facility in Palmetto, which held its grand opening that day.
Weeks moved to Florida when he was 6 years old after his father suffered a heart attack and was told to get out of the cold weather. At the time, both his parents worked full time, and Weeks learned that all the children at his school went to the local Boys Club (now the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County) to play sports.
But when he went to join, Weeks was crushed to find out that at 7 years old, he wasn’t quite old enough to become a member. His dad bought him a five-cent baseball card as a sort of consolation prize. But on Weeks’ eighth birthday, the pair again headed to the center — this time with the promise of membership.
“I remember my card number,” Weeks said, laughing. “It was club card No. 624.
“If it wasn’t for the Boys Club, I don’t know who I’d be or what I’d be doing,” he said.
Weeks spent nearly every waking hour outside of those at school at the club, playing basketball, baseball or whatever activities the day held.
Then, in 1965, Weeks officially became a staff member, drawing his first paycheck there. He was still in school, but he umpired ball games or handled whatever tasks the day held.
He continued working at the club while attending junior college and moved to Tampa in 1968 to attend the University of South Florida. After two years there, he graduated with a degree in business. While at USF, Weeks got a job with the Hillsborough County Recreation Department.
“In those years, it was here I am, and now what do I want to do with my life?” Weeks said.
The day he was supposed to start work with a finance company, he called to apologize and quit.
“My heart and everything fell back to what I enjoy and that was working with kids,” he said, noting he drove to Bradenton that day to inquire about jobs with the Boys Club of Manatee.
With no jobs available in Bradenton, the director — then Nelson Perri — suggested Weeks call the national office to see about an opening. Weeks learned about a position at a club in Gainesville. On Sept. 1, 1971, Weeks became the operation’s physical director. Just a few months later, Weeks got a call about an opening at the Desoto Club in Manatee, he said.
That was Nov. 1, 1972. The organization grew quickly throughout the years, becoming even more of a staple for youth within the community by offering children an opportunity to play baseball, basketball and flag football, among other activities. By 1985, Weeks was overseeing 63 baseball teams just at the Desoto club.
BECOMING A LEADER
That same year, he became assistant executive director of the Bradenton club on Ninth Street West. Several years and positions later, Weeks accepted his current position as the executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County in 2000.
In 2002, the organization opened a program at Harllee Middle School, where 71% of students at the school are now enrolled as members. It opened a program at Southeast High School in 2007.
The organization now is dealing with issues that were not prevalent during Weeks’ childhood days at the clubs — gang activity, teen pregnancy, prescription and illegal drugs.
Raising funds for the clubs has been difficult during the struggling economy, as for any other group. But Weeks said the organization is trying to think outside the box, as evidenced by the alumni celebration, and to continue efforts for expanding its services.
“There are still a lot of children out there who need our services,” Weeks said. “We need to serve more kids. If I could wave a magic wand, I would love to have facilities in northwest Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch.
“Kids deserve the best, they really, really do,” he said.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].