Pictured: Collaborative workstations are also part of the Boys & Girls Club’s tech room. Photo by Javon Smith.

By Bill Sterling

What started as a Christmas present to her husband who had all the “toys” he needed has become a tech room at the Eastern Shore Boys & Girls Club that will open up a whole new world for club members.

Collaborative workstations are also present in the technology room of the Boys & Girls Club. Photo by Javon Smith

“I wanted to do something meaningful, not just give another gift that would soon be forgotten,” Kesha Pettit recently said, of the gift she gave husband Ashley last Christmas. “We had the idea of ​​providing computers to Boys & Girls Club members, and the concept took off and we now have a technology and resource room at the club. And that’s just the beginning. We want to provide instructions and add to the room.

The room is named after Ashley’s parents, Elaine Hall and Chester Pettit Jr., both educators who taught on the East Coast. A ribbon-cutting ceremony and banquet at the Mary N. Smith Cultural Enrichment Center, home of the club, in early May brought together family members and supporters of the project and honored the late Elaine and Chester Pettit Jr.

Speakers that evening included the Reverend Clarence Pettit, the only surviving brother of Chester Pettit Jr., and Dr. Larrissa Pettit, a niece of Chester Pettit Jr.

Reverend Pettit recounted how his brother attended Maryland State College (now University of Maryland, Eastern Shore) despite the family’s limited income, taking food packed by their mother when he went to school. ‘university. “It was a struggle, but my parents raised and educated five children working on 10 acres of land.”

Chester Pettit Jr., who taught at TC Walker and Worcester Technical Institute, died aged 52 when Ashley was just 10. Elaine Pettit taught TC Walker and Accomac Elementary School for 22 years and died in 2020.

“Obviously I didn’t know Ashley’s dad, but I did know Ms. Pettit, and she was an amazing woman who valued education very much,” Kesha said.

Ashley Pettit is president of Triangle Enterprises Inc., the real estate leasing/development company started by her parents in 1972. Triangle Enterprises sponsored the banquet and oversaw the renovation of the classroom, converting it into a technology and science lab. resources. Triangle Enterprises also donated $1,000 in loving memory of Chester and Elaine Hall Pettit. Ashley remembers her mother often saying, “Everything you do and do can’t be for yourself.”

Friends are mobilizing to support the project

Before anyone thought of buying a computer, the club’s classroom had to be redone to accommodate the equipment. “I think there were two electrical outlets in that room,” Ashley said. “It was a major renovation that included extensive rewiring.”

Mary N. Smith Institution was built in 1953 as an elementary high school for African Americans until 1970, then served as a middle school after integration and was closed in 2004. The building was rapidly deteriorating before to be taken over by a group of MNS Graduates in 2011.

Ashley attended college at MNS, but Perdue Foods retention specialist Kesha, from Mississippi, said being off shore didn’t hold her back when the couple applied for funds for the project after making a substantial donation. .

Elaine and Chester Pettit Jr. are pictured entering the C&E Technology and Resource Room at the Boys & Girls Club.

“Ashley has texted many friends and business associates and got an immediate response. I’ve been out and talked to people. I don’t want to tell people what we don’t have. I’m interested in meeting needs and creating space for learning. My approach is to make a connection, show commitment, and then keep the communication going.”

A former classroom was transformed into a gleaming technology and computer lab with the help of construction, electrical and computer companies coordinated by Ashley and completed just before the ribbon-cutting ceremony with a strong push to the end.

Kesha, whose passion for the project shines through when she talks about it, explained, “We didn’t want people to come to the banquet and hear us talk about this vision after making donations. We wanted them to see a space ready for our club members to use,” said Boys and Girls Club Advisory Board Member Kesha.

Colby West, a Boys & Girls Club advisory board member and also an active member of the Mary N, Smith Alumni Association, was visibly emotional after entering the room for the first time. “I dreamed of something like this for a long time, but now seeing this brings tears to my eyes,” West said.

Hoping others will follow

The Pettits hope this is the first of several spaces that can be renovated to better serve the club and the community of Mary N. Smith. “It’s about the Pettit family legacy that values ​​education,” Ashley said. “We hope this inspires other families to honor their loved ones in some way and build a better future for our children.”

The Pettits’ next goal is phase two. People who want to help can donate funds to purchase Chrome Books, costing around $250 each, which will be used to supplement the computer and workstations currently in the new tech room.

An elaborate cake design of books and a computer was presented at the grand opening banquet of the C&E Technology and Resource Room at the Boys & Girls Club. Photo by Bill Sterling.

Ashley and Kesha’s 15-year-old daughter, Layla, volunteers at the club, where club members participate in an after-school program that provides a hot meal and school tutoring. fine arts and supervised sports activities. The new tech room will be an added bonus where chess will also be taught online in addition to having the Smart Girl program and other academic and wellness programs offered to club members.

Javon Smith, a member of the Boys and Girls Club advisory board who maintains a visible presence at the club. says, “We hope the Pettits’ contributions will inspire more families to want to fix other classrooms to help meet the needs of children with a long-term goal for all classrooms to be named after families who have chosen to support boys and girls. Club. Through the C&E Technology Room, we will be able to expand our programs and increase membership starting with the summer program which begins in June. »

The mission of the Boys & Girls Club is important to our society today: “To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring and responsible.

Since 2005, when the club first met in a rented building in Exmore, the Boys & Girls Club has changed lives by teaching young people how to make decisions that lead to academic success, a way of life health and good lifestyle choices.

Destiny Carrington, a member of the club for seven years, recently won the Youth of the Year award competing with other club members in the Southeast region and then finished second in the state, earning scholarships for her attendance at Longwood University in hopes of becoming either a nurse practitioner or physician assistant.

Carrington received additional funds for the college through the Love and Legacy Scholarships presented by the Pettit family at the dedication of the Technology and Resource Lab. The scholarships, made in memory of Darnell Robert Charles Thompson, the late son of Dr. Larissa Pettit, and Katherine Hall Claude, the late mother of Rachael Hall, will be available each year for members of the Boys and Girls Club as well as other qualified students. . “We want to reward positive behavior and achievement,” Kesha said when announcing the scholarships. “Destiny is a shining example of the difference the Boys & Girls Club can make in a life.”

To register for the summer or fall program or for more information, contact Eastern Shore Boys & Girls Club Director Kathy Custis at 757-709-3038 or email [email protected]

To make a financial contribution to the club, send a check payable to Boys & Girls Club of the Eastern Shore and mail it to PO Box 101, Melfa, Va. 23410

To make a financial contribution to the Petit family to help with phase two of the C&E Technology Room, contact Ashley at 757-302-3222 or Kesha Pettit at 757-709-8056.