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story.lead_photo.caption The Jacksonville Boys & Girls Club will have its annual fundraising dinner May 1 at the Jacksonville Community Center. Pictured from the Boys & Girls Club are, from left, Barbie Mellinger, board secretary and volunteer; Chris Woods, volunteer; LaConda Watson, executive director; Mike Williams, programs and athletic director; and Johnny Hicks, board member and guest speaker for the banquet. Hicks is the K-9 officer for the Jacksonville Police Department. With him is Ace, the department’s K-9 dog. - Photo by Mark Buffalo

— Arkansas first lady Susan Hutchinson will be the keynote speaker for the annual fundraising banquet for the Boys & Girls Club of Jacksonville.

The event will take place at 6 p.m. May 1 at the Jacksonville Community Center.

Other guest speakers for the banquet include Jacksonville K-9 officer Johnny Hicks and local author Akire Williamson. Denise Middle of KTHV-Channel 11 will be the master of ceremonies.

LaConda Watson, executive director for the Boys & Girls Club of Jacksonville, said she started working on the program for the banquet over a year ago.

“I met the first lady at the Go Red for Women event at the Capitol,” Watson said. “I had the opportunity to meet her and talk with her and just share where I was working, what we do and some of the initiatives that we have. It seems to be in line with some of her interests, which are literacy and computers.”

“Having the first lady, Susan Hutchinson, to give us her time on that evening is remarkable. We’re so excited that she is going to be a part of our event.”

Watson said the annual banquet is the club’s biggest fundraiser of the year.

“Being a nonprofit organization, one of the things we always struggle with in this industry is keeping funds for [expenses, from] operational to ensuring that we’re properly maintaining the building to keeping our compliance to make sure we have a safe environment for our children,” she said. “And we want to provide programs that are necessary to make sure we are contributing to their livelihood and doing our part to make sure they are future leaders of America, going toward the future.”

Watson said the club currently has 124 children on its roster.

“We’re averaging about 65 to 75 children a day after school,” she said. “We start our summer-camp program in June. It runs for nine weeks through Aug. 3. During that time, our capacity is up to 200, but we kind of taper off at 150 based on if we have enough summer help.”

Watson said the Boys & Girls Club has several needs that the funds raised will support.

“We’re in a building that is 49 years old,” she said. “We probably average $5,500 [per month] just in our general utilities.” She said that does not include fees that are paid to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

“Our vans are significantly aging,” Watson said. “Hopefully, this helps us make sure they are properly maintained. If something happens to one of them, we can get it fixed pretty quickly.

“Having that capital on hand is definitely needed.”

Watson said the club is always having to buy supplies, such as headsets for the 18 computers in the computer lab and printing supplies.

“It’s nothing elaborate,” she said. “We just need to make sure we can pay the bills, make things happen and keep it moving for our kids.”

Watson said area businesses have donated their time and services for things such as invitations and programs. Also, people in the community have donated items for the silent auction.

“I really appreciate them carving out time for us to make a difference in the community,” she said.

Tickets for the banquet are $45 each and can be purchased through, or at various locations in Jacksonville.

Sponsorship packages are also available. Platinum is $1,300 and includes two tables with eight seats per table. Diamond is $800 with one table of eight. Gold is $600 with four tickets.

For more information, call (501) 982-4316.

Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or

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