ALBANY, Ga. -- Boys & Girls Club of Albany alumni said Tuesday night at the organization's biggest fundraiser event of the year that the organization made a positive impact on their lives.
Marvin Laster said Wednesday in an interview with The Herald that his experience in the Boys & Girls Club of Albany has paved the way to his success as the director of diversity for the Boys & Girls Club of America.
At the impressionable age of eight, Laster became a member of the Boys & Girls Club of Albany and attended the East Albany Unit.
"My mom was a single parent at the age of 23," said Laster. "She had two sons to take care of by herself."
Laster's mother struggled with trying to rear her two sons, one of which made some choices that took him down a darker path. Laster said his older brother became involved in criminal activity and eventually was incarcerated.
"My mother made a vow to save her youngest son. She got me involved in the Boys & Girls Club which was a safe place to go and grow," he said.
As a member of the organization, Laster said, he learned many valuable life lessons and built lifelong friendships with many of the organization's board and staff members.
Laster won the Youth of the Year Award in 1994 for both the Albany club and for the state, an honor he said made him want to accomplish more and develop himself into a mentor for others.
"When I was blessed with the award in 1994, I knew that there was another kid in the audience that was looking at me. I knew then that I was affecting someone else and I wanted to make sure that that affect was positive," he said.
Laster said the Boys & Girls Club was always there to support him through any goal -- including choosing a college and career path.
"They helped me through the process and they surrounded me with the right people," he said.
The organization gave Laster a job to support himself while he attended Albany State University, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree.
"They saw something in me that I didn't really see in myself," said Laster. "It's like the story of the turtle on the fence post. If you see one, you know it didn't get there by itself. I am standing on top of this fence post today because of the people here."
D. Michael Marz, President of the Boys & Girls Club of Albany and President of SunTrust Bank, said community support for the organization is key to creating more successful outcomes for children in the Albany area.
"It (Albany) is not the place we remember as kids. Albany needs this (organization). We need it worse today than ever. Marvin's story could be repeated," he said.
Laster said the organization has a proven formula for success.
"The reality is that more and more families are losing their sources of income and are struggling during these economic times," he said. "Organizations like the Boys & Girls Club provide families a place where there children can go and gain the tools to make healthy decisions."
Laster, along with two other alumni, spoke at the organization's 23rd annual Steak-N-Steak dinner at the Darton College arena Tuesday.
Bob Hutchinson, Director of Operations for the Boys & Girls Club of Albany, said 275 children from the organization's 11 units of operation and more than 300 adults attended the event.
"We had close to 160 tables and almost no empty seats," he said. "We set the record with the most people in attendance and most money raised."
Marz said the community support for the organization shown at the event was heartwarming.
"It was a good event and we had the best turn-out we've had in years," he said. "The money raised will help expand programs and keep programs in the club for members."
Laster said the investment the community makes in the Boys & Girls Club will have a tremendous return.
"The impact of the Boys & Girls Club is tremendous," he said. "It (the organization) made not only mine, but my mother's dream for me, a reality. What greater investment can you make than in the future generation."