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Olive Garden restaurant helps out Midvale Boys and Girls Club

Published June 28, 2012 10:06 am

Darden Restaurants • Company creates the Community Grants Program to help nonprofit organizations.
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The Boys and Girls Club of South Valley in Midvale is using newly earned grant money to improve academic achievement.

The club received $1,000, which the Darden Foundation awarded on behalf of Olive Garden in Murray. This is part of the inaugural Darden Restaurant Community Grants Program.

"We thrive on grants," said Bree Toone, Midvale teen director. "Anything we get is amazing."

For a long time, the Midvale Club has been offering after-school tutoring and homework help, but with the money, they will be able to make improvements.

"We have about 200 members that show up," said Ben Trentelman, Midvale director. "We're not able to make as big as an impact as we'd like to."

The staff-to-youth ratio is underwhelming, and Trentelman was concerned the club was not able to meet the specific needs of each child.

"That's the reason we applied for the grant," he said.

The Darden Foundation looked for nonprofits with missions in one of three categories: education, hunger and preservation of natural resources. This year the club has zoned in on its tutoring services, so the grant comes at an opportune time.

"We want to pick up one of the rooms in the club that wasn't utilized a whole lot," he said.

The room will serve as a tutoring center in the fall with staff and volunteers who can assist in a full-time tutoring program.

"We have purchased a desk, new chairs, a bookshelf and we're getting some more books," Trentelman said.

The club caters to two age groups with the Walk-In Program for kindergarteners to sixth-graders and Teen Program for seventh to 12th graders. One advantage of having a tutoring center, Trentelman said, is being able to tackle complex school issues that the youth encounter.

Another mission of the club is providing help for members that they might not otherwise get at home.

"We have a lot of club members of different income categories," Trentelman said. "One thing we discover is that the lower-income parents are working all hours in the day and late into the night."

Trentelman hopes the club can provide additional support to help youth retain what they learn in school. In 2010, the club offered a 30-day intensive tutoring program that proved successful.

"We saw an average of 0.6-point GPA increase," Trentelman said. "Two years ago, we had two seniors graduate high school. Nine graduated this year."

He attributed that increase to the level of academic retention members have gained with the club's focus shifting to tutoring and homework help.

"For a lot of them, they're not only the first generation in their families to have a goal of graduating college, but they're the first to graduate high school," Trentelman said.

The club also wants to motivate youth by surrounding them with good role models in staff members, who will make learning fun as well as insightful.

"We want to have adults around to change the culture that the kids have been used to," Trentelman said. "We want them to see that graduating high school is being a contributing members of society."

One feature of the club that blends fun with education is Squad Wars, ongoing competitions between teams that involve a variety of physical, academic and social challenges.

"Squad Wars was the whole focus of our club this year," Toone said. "Each week, we're doing a competition and each kid has a staff member who's accountable for their actions."

Each squad has about 15 to 20 kids, and the squads earn points when members get good grades in school. The winning squad receives a reward that serves as an incentive.

"It could be something as simple as a pizza party or a late-night activity," Toone said. "One winning squad is going on a camping trip."

Michelle Bower, general manager of the Olive Garden on 6305 S. State Street in Murray, said an organization like the Boys and Girls Club represent a nonprofit with significance in the community.

"I think it's really important to support the youth of our community," Bower said. "Our youth are our future."

Trentelman acknowledged how helpful the Murray Olive Garden has been to the Midvale Club. During the holiday season, the restaurant puts up a giving tree to ask employees and customers to purchase shoes for the Midvale Club youth.

According to Bower, the restaurant usually gets 200 to 300 pairs of shoes donated. These are given to the kids two or three days before Christmas. Sometimes the kids even receive an additional pair.

"I've been able to first-handedly see and document it," Bower said. "It's very heartwarming and emotional."

Both Bower and Trentelman said they are looking forward to fostering the relationship between the club and the restaurant.