Someone once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” That sentiment drives Ardale Clark in his work with our members at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor.
A shy, unsure Ardale joined the Clubs in 2000. Little did he know at that time, it was the beginning of a long journey that would change his life and that of so many others. Back then, the Club was about getting a meal and having a safe place to be. It became so very much more for Ardale. “Once you are a part of the Club, you are a part of the Club for life,” he says.
After losing his mother at a young age, Ardale needed an emotional and creative outlet. He found that in the dance and drama programs. As “Ardale the Performer,” he was able to relate to others and build the confidence he needed to break free of the protective shell he hid behind for so long. Ardale believes that the Club helped him find his voice, and helped him through some very trying times.
Ardale was the Youth of the Year in 2002 and 2003 at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor, making it to the state of Michigan competition in 2003 to become the first runner up to the Michigan Youth of the Year. It was a culmination of so much hard work and overcoming many odds. That experience also made him the perfect mentor in 2014 for Jasmnika Newbern, as she advanced to state, regional, and national Youth of the Year competitions.
When Jasmnika was selected as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor 2014 Youth of the Year, she immediately turned to Ardale for guidance. Every step of the way, Ardale’s coaching propelled Jasmnika into the spotlight as the Michigan Youth of the Year and later the 2014-2015 Midwest Regional Youth of Year. “More than anything, I wanted Jasmnika to take advantage of all of the opportunities that would be afforded to her by becoming Youth of
the Year,” said Ardale. “She is an amazing young woman, and I believed her when she told me at the age of 11 that she was going to be the first person in her family to go to college.” Ardale doesn’t want any of the glory for Jasmnika’s accomplishments; he says those belong to her alone. He is glad that he was able to help tell her compelling story about what the Clubs did to change her life and allow her to discover who she truly is.
There are so many stories of young people benefitting from Ardale’s guidance and passion for life. Longtime Club member Lauricia says, "I was so shy when I came to the Club. I liked to just sit and watch everyone have fun. But one of the staff members, Ardale, pushed me to get up and join in. He used to be a Club kid and he knew I was missing out. He helped me find my voice."
“When kids are empowered, they are able to give you 100% and that is life-changing,” said Ardale. He works to channel the overwhelming energy that comes with youth into positive activities that will help Club members learn, grow and mature. Ardale’s passion is drawing out the full potential our members have. It is a role that he takes very seriously and carries out with great pride as a lifetime member of the Club himself.
Following high school, Ardale made the decision to not accept a full college scholarship in Tennessee so he could raise his younger sisters, who were facing a childhood in foster care. He credits the Club for making that possible. “Working here allowed me to provide for my family. Today, my sisters are successful—one is in college and one is raising a family of her own—because of the opportunities the Club gave me.”
Now a founding member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor's Alumni and Friends Association, Ardale’s dream is for all young Club members to experience that same sense of fulfillment. “I was that person,” says Ardale. “The Club experience was life-changing and the Clubs are forever a part of me.”