Members of the current Leadership Crawford County class were challenged Thursday to find an organization in which they can lend a helping hand.

During the class session on community awareness, facilitator Debbie Thomas urged members to take a close look at the volunteer organizations they were about to visit and find "a place to connect."

"I hope today you find where you can help," Thomas said. "Don’t let the the session be too heavy on your heart. See that place you can connect."

She encouraged LCC class members to get a wish list at each organization.

"Then go home and clean out your closet or your kid’s closet," Thomas said. "Decide to donate $10 or $1,000. Or, get your office together and put something together."

Thursday started at the Boys and Girls Club in Van Buren and included visits to River Valley Regional Food Bank, Children’s Shelter, Hamilton House, Women’s Crisis Intervention Center and Abilities Unlimited.

At the boys and girls club, Chief Professional Officer Cindy Faldon shared the impact the club in the city park has had on lives since it was organized by a group of men led by Earl Robinson, who still visits the club on a regular basis.

"Earl tells the story of how he took the club from Sophia Meyer School to the Wheeler Avenue club in Fort Smith where he stayed until his mother picked him up after work," Faldon said. "He is quick to tell of the impact the club had on his life."

Faldon challenged the LCC members to look back on their childhood and recall someone who had an impact on their lives.

"That’s what we want to do at the club here," she said. "We want to change and impact lives."

Jim Petty, the chief volunteer officer for the club, cited a national statistic which states 57 percent of boys and girls club alumni say the club saved their lives. Petty also stressed the importance of volunteers on a boys and girls club.

"Volunteers are what sets this community apart from any other city, large or small," Petty said. "Help us change a person’s life."

Faldon said the Van Buren club offers proven programs and an after-school program that has seen attendance grow 20 percent a year for the past three years. The highest was earlier this month when 239 were at the club.

Most of those who attend the club come from single-parent families and most live with their mother, Faldon said.

She said the club, like any service organization, needs money.

"But it’s not about the money," Faldon said, "we need volunteers, especially men. We need adults to interact with these kids … to listen to them, even if it is only for 15 minutes. Sometimes that’s all it takes."