Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Celebration of Service

The Boys & Girls Club of Sequoyah County honored club founder, Linda Bickel, recently at a board of directors meeting. Bickel established the club and gave 30 years of service to the club and the Christian Children's Fund, beginning in 1983. She served as the CPO for the club and then as an active member of the board of directors. At the celebration to honor Bickel on her retirement are, above, from the left, Lindsie Dyer, Jim Harris (president), Jeff Allred, Bickel, Darren Girdner, and Julie Ferguson (vice president). Not pictured are Carol Shupert, Todd Martin, Matt Caldwell (treasurer) and Terri Daniels (secretary). Although Bickel said she is retiring, she's not really. She still intends to be involved in fundraising for the club, which survives totally on grants and donations. "The club is really important to me," she said recently. "Yes, I will continue with the fundraising. Anybody off the street can help with funding," she chortled, perhaps hoping for a volunteer.

Bickel was working with the Christian Children's Fund, or CCF, in 1983, when the CCF announced it may leave Oklahoma in the late 90's. Bickel said she was concerned about losing the many programs and activities CCF provided to area children. She remembered, "I was scared to death we'd not be able to serve the children with the programs and activities we had through CCF. But the Boys & Girls Club people had been coming to our meetings. That's when I thought that was an option to keep our programs going. But it wasn't easy. I thought, "U-h-h-h. I don't know how to write grants, and do all that paperwork. But I took the Boys & Girls Club training. The we started a board. I wanted people with particular skills, who could tell us how to incorporate, how to get a non-profit status. We got the club chartered in 1998."

Today the club offers programs in Sallisaw, in the old post office building at 113 N. Elm Street in Sallisaw (leased from the city "dirt cheap"), and has four school units, in Brushy, Gore, Gans and Moffett, and serves more than 1,000 youngsters. In addition, the CCF still serves children in Vian, Marble City, Muldrow and Roland, Bickel said.

It takes a lot of money to provide these services, and the salaries and benefits for 19 employees, and that's why Bickel said she intends to continue with the fundraising. "We've had all kinds of ups and downs over the years," Bickel said. "It takes a lot of work. We still need to raise funds." Bickel said she will be working with previous corporate donors on fundraising. Many have donated to the programs, including the CCF, the Cherokee Nation, United Way and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. "That's a federal program, and we have to write the grant every year," Bickel said about the Office of Juvenile Justice. "It's a tough competition," she said, adding that the benefits could be as high as a $100,000-plus donation. The local club has also joined a Boys & Girls Club state alliance to work on getting state funding.

Local fundraisers include the annual Taste of Sallisaw where local restaurants show off their best dishes, and diners pay for a taste. A silent auction is held in conjunction with Taste of Sallisaw. This year the fundraiser will be held Oct. 7 at the Sallisaw High School.

Bickel said she will miss the people she has worked with over the past 30 years with the CCF and the Boys & Girls Club. "I made lots of friends," she said, "many friends. You meet with them, you visit with them, you work with them. And I'm going to miss the board."

Bickel was honored by the board at a retirement party on Aug. 12. Since then, Bickel and her husband, Don, are doing the things they love, fishing, watching NASCAR, and traveling. And most of all, Bickel said, "I love the freedom."

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