Story and Photo by Bill Sterling
“They are my Christmas angels,” said Kathy Custis of two couples who recently brought a truck loaded with presents for about 25 members of the Eastern Shore Unit of the Boys and Girls Club. Custis, the executive director of the club that serves almost 200 members and meets each weekday at Occohannock Elementary School, selects the families and also provides ages of the children and their interests.
Then, Chip and Pat Bohlen of New Bern, N.C., and Rob and Heather Burke of Virginia Beach, Va., do their shopping, tailoring the gifts to the desires of the children. Each child gets two wish list items of their choosing. Other items include clothing and school supplies. Delivered this year were bicycles, about a dozen touch-screen tablets, Barbie dolls and dollhouses, sporting equipment, coats, and many other items. They rent a U-Haul truck to bring the gifts, meeting the parents individually outside the club to transfer the gifts in time for Christmas morning.
“It’s something we have loved doing for the over 10 years,” said Pat Bohlen. “We first met the kids from the Eastern Shore years ago when they had to come to Virginia Beach to get Christmas presents. That’s when we adopted the club here and have been making an annual trip ever since. It is the most rewarding thing we do. We really feel it can make a difference in the lives of the children.”
Bohlen says the group buys toys that either help educate or gets the kids outside to play in addition to giving clothes that are suitable to wear to school. The foursome also brings equipment and office supplies for the club that Custis and her staff need to run the club. Jackson Burke, now 10, has made the trip with his parents every year of his life. In fact, his parents were expecting him when they made the first trip.
The Bohlens and Burkes are not just Christmas angels either. This summer they made a major donation to the club to enable about 45 members to attend YMCA Camp Silver Beach for a week.
“Kathy is the real hero here. She means so much to this club and the kids, and we are just happy to support her,” said Bohlen.
Boys and Girls Club: A Positive Place for Youth
The Eastern Shore Unit of Boys and Girls Club was formed in 1993 as a positive place for youth to come to after school or all day in the summer when most parents are working. The Eastern Shore Boys and Girls Club makes sure kids are safe and having fun but are also engaged in activities that help them achieve three goals: academic success, good character and citizenship, and healthy lifestyles.
The Boys and Girls Club mission is “to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.
About 60 percent of club members come from single-parent homes and over 70 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches at school.
During the school year, club members receive a hot meal after the school day and then work with counselors on homework assignments before enjoying sports-related activities. In the summer, the Boys and Girls Club of the Eastern Shore has programs that begin at 6:30 a.m. with breakfast and continue throughout the day to closing at 5 p.m. Club members take field trips each week to experience various aspects of the Eastern Shore.
Custis has been the executive director of the club since its inception.