As Sabrina Miller gets ready to take on the task of heading up a legacy-defining youth center in the heart of Greenwood County, she can remember an image from own childhood that left an indelible mark upon her life.
“I grew up in a very tough environment. I probably was 11 when I saw that my best friend’s brother was murdered at our community center, and that was the first time I’d ever seen something like that but it kind of sets you up to know that there are just some things that you know you don’t want to be a part of your life, and I’ve always carried that,” the 51-year-old executive director of the Lakelands Region Boys & Girls Club said.
Leading the Josh Norman Teen Center from concept to the reality it soon will become, Miller believes her experiences being raised in Columbia’s inner city — and her time running the state Department of Social Services’ Greenwood branch — puts her in a place not only of empathy, but advocacy for the youth who are poised to walk through its doors.
Her duties began on Aug. 1.
“I think having something this dynamic in our community is something everyone can absolutely rally around, so I think it’s a way to bring the community together. What we’re expecting is a very diverse membership of kids from around the community. We’re also expecting very diverse volunteers to come in and support the center and in terms of deterring the violence that may have been the catalyst for us leaning towards the Boys and Girls Club, while it may not change what has already happened, I think it certainly can be a deterrent for future generations,” Miller said.
“Because if they have something they can belong to, if they have something they can believe in, if they have a champion — every child needs that. I’m excited about the diversity that can come into this community that can work with kids in a very different way.”
Rarely does Miller see herself saying no when it comes to the programming to be offered when the center opens, likely sometime in 2020.
During her employee physical, for instance, Miller began chatting with her doctor and learned he was a leather maker. Would he consider taking time to share his hobby at the Teen Center, she asked him.
“We’re going to be focusing on academics, but I think the other big thing is focusing in on citizenship and character. Teaching kids conflict resolution — some of those social, emotional, learning skills they’ll need. How to apply for a job, how to work in a team, how to get along well with others,” Miller said. “All of those things are going to help them not just in this after-school program, but throughout their life, and that’s what we want to be. We want to be the kind of program where kids are exposed to so many different things that throughout their life they can say, ‘Hey, I learned that at the Boys & Girls Club.’ If somebody can teach them to count to 10 in Chinese, we want them in here.”
One of Miller’s closest colleagues is Carter Clark, president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of the Crescent Region.
“I’ve worked with Sabina in other capacities over the years and have always been very impressed by her ability to build coalitions in order to meet the needs of our youth,” he said. “I’m excited to see Sabrina lead our efforts to bring our proven life-enhancing programs to Greenwood while working with other community leaders to help our youth realize their greatness within.”
Miller, who moved to Greenwood about six years ago, sees the city as her home.
“This is my community, my daughter is being raised in it and it’s my hope that the leader that I am will be able to get the project going and done right and that everything I know that I’ll be put into it will be exactly what the project needs,” she said.
Named for the star Redskins cornerback and city native, Miller believes having Josh Norman’s name attached to the center gives it instant cache with the people it soon will serve.
Norman, in Greenwood to dedicate the facility in June, said its completion far surpasses any on-field success he’s enjoyed.
“Josh has so much love for this community, his passion for this community is catching so having him being willing to commit so much time and resources to this I think will bring the community together,” Miller said. “Every kid will want to be associated with Josh Norman, so I think it’ll create an environment where everybody knows they belong.”
According to Boys and Girls Club statistics, 97% of students involved in its programming complete their homework, and the support services that tout character education will become a hallmark of Greenwood’s center, Miller said.
There will be rules, but clients also need the ability to express themselves.
“We would never want to create an environment where children feel like, ‘I’ve got to adhere to a rigid set of standards in order to be there.’ You’ve got to do what is right, but we want it to be inviting for kids, and there are going to be behaviors we recognize are not going to be acceptable, but can we teach them what is,” Miller said. “We can help them to learn, instead of kicking them out of one more place and making them feel like they’re not welcome somewhere else. I think kids get enough of that,” she said.