published Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

Federal funds for Polk youth center hit snag

By Paul Leach
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BENTON, Tenn. — Critical federal funding for a new youth center in Benton has encountered a stumbling block and may require the county to come to the rescue.

In a letter to the Benton Boys & Girls Club, officials with USDA Rural Development stated that a loan and grant package totaling $350,000 is on hold. The federal funding agency objects to a reversionary clause in the county’s land donation for the center. The clause states that the land would revert to the county if it no longer was used for a youth center.

Cindy Hooker, unit director for the Benton Boys & Girls Club, presented the letter to the Polk County Commission on Thursday evening.

The letter offered two options for securing the $350,000 funding package: remove the clause or amend it so the clause would be subject to Rural Development debt.

Commissioners balked at the idea of simply removing the clause, citing the loss of the land should the youth organization fail financially.

Hooker said the county should consider agreeing to assume the debt.

First, she said, the annual debt to Rural Development is about $16,000, not much more than the $15,000 in annual support the county has given the Boys & Girls Club in recent years.

Second, the county stands to receive a developed piece of land that could be used as the basis for its own youth program.

Commission Chairman John Pippenger said he hoped the site would be used for a youth program if the Benton Boys & Girls Club failed, but he could not guarantee that would be its future.

In addition to discussing the legal and financial consequences, Hooker also opened what she called “a little window into our organization.”

She gave commissioners statistics on combating at-risk behaviors by the county’s adolescents and the testimony of a “success story in progress.”

A 16-year-old boy named Skyler said Hooker and the Boys & Girls Club turned his life around after he was kicked out of school several times and committed a series of petty crimes.

Skyler’s last name is not being used because he is a juvenile.

Hooker said Skyler now plans to graduate from high school and become an emergency medical technician.

“She did a good thing for me, and other people like me,” Skyler said. “It takes a lot for a person to do that, to be that kind of person.”

County commissioners agreed to address the matter again at their July 21 meeting after they have had a chance to review blueprints for the planned youth center.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland, Tenn. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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