“I'm delighted to be here for the Boys and Girls Club,” he told the crowd. “We are here to hopefully change the lives of some young people who live right here in your community … Isn't it refreshing to know you are making an investment not in the lives of people you will never see or touch ... but children right here in your community.”
Leighann Florey, manager of marketing and public relations for the organization, said the group brought Huckabee to speak because it believed he could bring a draw of support to the organization.
She said by hosting the event the club is in no way taking a political stance.
Florey said the local chapter helps more than 600 East Texas students in 12 schools in Tyler, Bullard and Lindale areas. She said 60 percent of the students enrolled are economically under privileged and are on scholarship to attend.
The “Champions of our Youth” event was a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club of East Texas to provide scholarships to students wishing to participate in its programs. Huckabee said it costs $1,480 to sponsor one student through the program for an entire year.
“That will provide the entire program — athletics, music, nutritious snacks and meals, adult supervision — it's a pretty good bargain,” he said adding the figure divides down to less than $10 per day. “I can tell you, you can't get a babysitter for that.”
He told the audience when he was governor of Arkansas; he went on tour to all 27 counties in the state advocating for education reform. One day he was fatigued and on his sixth city for the day. He said after his speech, a woman told him she didn't have children in the education system and asked the governor why she should care about education reform.
He said the man at the drive thru window, the mechanic who fixes a car at a late hour and the surgeon performing a life-saving surgery were all products of the public education system and have an impact on everyone's lives.
He said in the same way, the after school programs provided by the organization affect the youth and send them in a positive direction.
“If kids are left alone for more hours after school, for more hours than they will ever spend in church and more hours than their parents will have to work with them, then I hope we there will be someone having meaningful positive activities (for the youth),” he said.
He said most problems in the world are easier to prevent than to fix.
“It costs more money to put someone in prison for one year than it does to pay for full tuition, board, books and give them spending money,” he said to a gasping audience. “Did you realize that?”
Huckabee said the investment in a child's future was a worthy investment.
While patrons decided how much to donate, he played along on a bass guitar to a few songs, and at the end of the evening he thanked them for not “cursing at the darkness” but rather turning on a light.
“Tonight your presence says you have come to light the candles,” he said.