Even though most parents want to believe otherwise, Mac Bledsoe regularly reminds them of a simple fact of life: their kids will make big decisions on their own.
The role of parenting — “the most important career anyone will ever have in life” — should be devoted to empowering children to make good choices based on family values, morals and ethics, he says.
Bledsoe has made it his life’s work enlightening parents about how to positively shape their children into responsible young men and women. He and his wife Barbara, both former teachers, developed a program called “Parenting with Dignity” and more than 20 years later the curriculum has gained a national following and engaged more than 5.5 million people. Bledsoe’s famous son, Drew, who played quarterback in the NFL for 13 seasons, helped spearhead his parents’ efforts and remains a strong public advocate for the family’s cause.
Young people constantly arrive at challenging crossroads, away from their parent’s supervision. The potential pitfalls have only expanded for today’s generations, which exist in a new frontier of unfolding perils involving cell phones.
Active parents are key, Bledsoe says, but also community organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club, that play a vital part in children’s lives and have profound impacts on communities.
“I think it’s at the very core of what made America great, that we’ve had community programs and those activities that are more than just babysitting,” he says, pointing to the YMCA, Boy Scouts of America and other nonprofit groups that provide opportunities and resources for young people.
Yet youth organizations are increasingly becoming a thing of the past, according to Bledsoe.
“I see these programs dying all across the country,” he says. “They lack adult support. They lack community support.”
Hoping to promote the local cause, the renowned speaker and longtime Kalispell resident is serving as the master of ceremonies at the upcoming 15th anniversary celebration for Boys and Girls Club of Glacier Country, based in Evergreen. The organization is holding its annual dinner and auction March 8 at Gardner Auction House, 3100 U.S. 93 South in Kalispell. Doors open at 5 p.m.
The event is the Boys and Girls Club’s main fundraiser. All proceeds go toward the nonprofit group, which operates two clubs in the valley. The Evergreen and Columbia Falls sites serve an average of 160 kids a day combined, according to the group’s executive director.
A national organization comprised of local groups, Boys and Girls Clubs provide kids a community gathering place for after-school programs and events like birthday parties. The average cost per child in the after-school group is less than $20 per month and offers a suite of opportunities and resources, including homework help, exercise, nutrition and health education, a healthy snack, games, computer science and technology programs. Since there isn’t a busing system in Evergreen, the club picks up an average of 70-80 kids after school every day and drops them off at the club on Shady Lane.
The recession dealt a significant blow to the organization, leading to budget cuts and reduced supplies even though the number of kids showing up for programs has doubled since 2012, according to executive director Alan Sempf, who has worked at the club since it opened in 1999.
“Alan Sempf is on the battle lines. He is guiding kids and providing a positive influence in their lives,” Bledsoe says. “It never ceases to amaze me to see people like Alan make a commitment to do the work that our country so sorely needs, teaching kids to believe in themselves, to stand on their own two feet, to accomplish in school and in sports and to be good citizens. It’s almost immeasurable the impact that has on our culture.”
Community groups like Boys and Girls Club greatly shaped Bledsoe’s life when he was growing up in Washington, but he also saw the repercussions after a pair of organizations closed. He was in the Cub Scouts and excited to advance to Boy Scouts when he was old enough. But then the local troop disbanded.
“I was really crushed by that because I had always dreamed of being an eagle scout,” he says. “That had been an exciting thing to look forward to accomplishing in my life.”
He became involved in the town’s other opportunity for young men, the YMCA. It was there that he met a youth leader named Alden Esping who inspired Bledsoe to set goals and work to achieve them.
“He just had such a profound effect on me and all of our community of young men,” Bledsoe says.
But during his eighth grade year the YMCA closed due to a lack of funding and community support even though the programs were filled with kids.
“Within a year we started having a drug problem and a juvenile delinquency problem,” Bledsoe says. “It was so profound the change in our community that happened. When that community decided the Boy Scouts were too expensive and the YMCA was too expensive, I felt like in a lot of ways my town went in the tank.”
For the past 17 years, Mac and Barbara have called the Flathead Valley home. While he remains an active champion of “Parenting with Dignity” and is even working on a new book, called “Coaching with Dignity,” he is staying busy promoting community groups like the Boys and Girls Club. He hopes today’s generation of kids in the Flathead have the same life-changing experiences and inspirations he once did.
“You never know where the next word of encouragement may be the thing that guides a kid toward accomplishment,” he says.
Boys & Girls Club of Glacier Country
15th annual dinner and auction fundraiser
5 p.m., March 8, Gardner Auction House, U.S. 93 South
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