Boys and Girls Club has a new way to raise donations

HARLINGEN — “That’s $2.”

Yarely Aguilar, 11, had just sold an order of cheese nachos to a hungry customer. She’s sold many such snacks as a budding Torch Club member, but lately there’s been a change.

Instead of selling from a doorway at the LeMoyne Gardens Unit of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harlingen, she now has a brand new counter.

“I feel really blessed,” said Yessica Mendoza, 14, another member of the Torch Club, a student leadership organization. Lowe’s Home Improvement built the counter recently to serve as a concession stand.

“We used to be selling in the kitchen,” Yessica said. “Now we have our own place.”

Leily Contreras, who was also busy making sales, appreciated the recognition of Torch Club as an important organization.

“It makes me feel like we are a good group,” she said. “I’m grateful.”

The Torch Club at LeMoyne was a perfect fit for a project by Lowe’s.

“We do projects every year for different organizations that are nonprofit,” said Todd Harris, human resources manager for Lowe’s in Harlingen.

“Some of my associates were bringing up some of the local Boys and Girls Clubs,” he said.

Hilda Gathright, director of the LeMoyne Gardens Unit, was somewhat speechless when Harris and his associates explained they wanted to build a concession stand for the kids. Basketball season was about to begin and the kids would be running their concession to earn more money for community service projects.

“I was in the process of getting everything ready for them when the people from Lowe’s walked in and told me this is what they wanted to do,” she remembered. “It was just like ‘Wow! I can’t believe this is really happening.’”

The way Gathright told it, she may have needed to pinch herself more than once to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. Even after plans were finalized and work began, she didn’t tell the kids what the workers were building.

“I wasn’t understanding it,” she said. “What if it didn’t come through? They started working on it and the kids were asking, ‘What’s going on?’”

And Hilda, trying to keep as mum as possible, simply answered, “They’re working on a little project.”

Well, the project got bigger … and bigger … and bigger … And after four days of steady work there was no denying what had occurred before their eyes.

“Guys,” Gathright told them. “This concession stand was made especially for you all.”

First they were shocked, and then they wanted to speak to the workers, none of whom were there at the moment.

“Oh, my gosh!” they asked. “Why can’t we say thank you to them? What can we do?”

And they fussed over the new concession stand like it was the most beautiful thing in the world. Gathright remembered one girl.

“Hilda, this is so beautiful,” said the girl, who kept running her hands across the counter.

“It’s so beautiful. Wow!” she continued. “This is so beautiful. I can’t believe this is ours. This is really ours.”

Another girl: “Hilda, I just feel like crying because they did this for us.”

Zena Nazar, 14, said the Torch Club is all about giving and she was thankful Lowe’s had donated the work and materials for the project.

“This sets a good example,” she said. “I think it’s very beautiful.”

The new concession stand has affected sales.

“The kids were making $30 a day,” Gathright said. “I think they’ve been doubling that, 60 and 70 dollars and that’s due to the way the concession looks.”

When the Torch Club kids saw what Lowe’s had done for them, their first order of business was to write letters of gratitude.

“It amazes me some of the letters they wrote,” Gathright said. “They were so personal. I see these kids grow, the feelings, so personal.”

Harris was equally impressed, and deeply touched.

“I actually am laminating their letters and we are putting them in picture frames and hanging them up in the break room for my associates to read,” he said.

And that’s not all. The students’ industry and sense of community service has not escaped him. Their trip to Rockport and Refugio to aid in hurricane relief this summer was especially admirable.

“I recruit constantly,” he said. “I see they are good leaders and they have good talent. I see the passion in their eyes and in their hearts.”

He invited them all to apply for a job at Lowe’s when they reach 18 years of age.