Civic club holds annual outreach day
Robert Hillman, Sr., started the Franklin Civic Club in 1992. He and a group of others were worried about the shape of their community here in Russellville, and they wanted to do something to make their neighborhoods a better place. As Christian men, the group worked to have a positive influence on the kids in the community by instilling different important values within them.
“He put a group together and tried to figure out what we could do to help the community,” said Allen Rorer, Hillman’s nephew and the current president of the club.
“We started off by taking the kids fishing. Sheriff Larry Plott helped us out. Over the years we’ve been doing the Fun Field Day.
“My uncle thought about something we could do here in the community. A lot of times we would take the kids fishing elsewhere, so we wanted to do something here in the community.
“That’s when we started putting on the event here. We always have the police department and the fire department come, and we usually have Air Evac land if they are not going anywhere.
“We want the kids to know when they see a police officer it’s not always bad. Most times when a kid hears a siren or sees a police officer they get scared and run.
“That’s why we get the department involved with the event, so the kids know when they see someone, not everyone is a bad person.
“Every year we try to make it a little bigger and better. We give away bicycles, we feed the kids hot dogs and hamburgers, we have a balloon toss and we have a three-point shootout. Everything we do is free.
“The winners in the water balloon contest get $20 apiece and second place gets $10 apiece. We do the same thing on the shootout.
“We usually have a hula-hoop contest, but this year we’re having a paddleball contest. We’re going to give away 10 bicycles this year.”
The Civic Club began putting on the Fun Field Day event at the Chucky Mullins Center in Reedtown 21 years ago. It has become a regular part of the year for both the club and the community since its inception.
“This is our 21st year hosting Fun Field Day,” said club member Harold Vaughn. “This is one of the annual events we have for the kids.
“It’s always the third Saturday of June, and usually the fire department and police department come and help us out. We have some bike clubs that come out and help us out. It’s a great thing. It’s a chance for everybody to join together and have fun.”
Fun Field Day could not be put on each year without the hard work and dedication of the members of the Franklin Civic Club, but other groups also help make the day special each year for the local youth.
“We have a motorcycle club, NAA, a Russellville and Muscle Shoals group, here,” Rorer said. “They come to support us.
“Members from different churches and organizations came in to help us. We have people come ask us what they need to do to help, and they do anything they can.”
Byron Graham, a Russellville native, was the guest speaker at the event this year. Graham is the athletic director at Florence High School and a member of Franklin Civic Club.
Fun Field Day is a big event for the club each year, but the group also helps out families during Christmastime and other parts of the year.
“It feels really good to be able to do this,” he said. “One of the things I always wanted to do growing up was have a chance to come back to my community and give back to the kids. It was a perfect opportunity for me to join the club and be able to do that.”
Graham spoke to the youth that had gathered for the event about what he did as an athletic director. He told the kids a little bit about himself, but he also spoke on the importance of behaving well for parents and working to get a good education.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” he said. “Any time you can put a smile on a kid’s face, you’re doing something special.
“Our goal is to do things for the kids and adults in the community so that way they know someone cares about them.”
The annual event has been growing since it started, but this year’s turnout exceeded expectations. Rorer planned on having around 85 kids, but given how fast the food and drinks went, he said the number must have been much more than expected, which is a good problem to have.
One of the new goals the Civic Club has had for Fun Field Day is getting not only the youth in the community involved, but a certain older group as well.
“We try to get the parents involved,” Rorer said. “We have been taking up donations over the past few years to have a drawing for the parents so they can have a chance to win something.
“Most people will bring their kids, drop them off and leave, so we’re trying to get the parents involved in the day.”
“I think it’s great,” Graham said. “We had a lot of adults come out this year, and we had probably twice as many kids as last year.
“Being able to give away things to kids is really special. We want people to know this is not just something for the black community; it’s something for everyone to come out and be a part of. The turnout was great, and I think it was a great success.”
Being able to help out the members of the community, according to Vaughn, is what the Civic Club is “all about.” But being able to give back has a special meaning for club president Rorer.
“I love kids,” he said. “I love seeing them happy.
“I come from the streets of Chicago. I grew up in a gang, and I always took from people. So, when I came down here with our family my uncle made a difference in my life.
“I’ve been down here 33 years, and I’ve been giving back ever since. I took so much, now it’s my turn to start giving back.”