Grassy lawn by Lake Lanier with tables and people seated at the Boys and Girls Club of Lanier's Duck Derby.

Sunny skies brought out a large crowd to see the derby.

For the past 25 years, thousands of little yellow ducks have helped make it possible for thousands of young people to take part in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier programs. From its beginnings in 1999 with nearly 6,500 bright yellow rubbers ducks being released into Lake Lanier to this year’s record-setting 25,000 being adopted by people across North Georgia, it continues to grow.

“The lure of a $10,000 cash grand prize is certainly a motivator,” said Chelsea Clark, grants and development administrator for the organization. “But even more so, the community has really gotten behind our clubs to support the work being done to serve area youth.”

Two years before the annual fund-raising event began, the Gainesville-Hall County Boys Club had merged with the Girls Club to become what was formerly known as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County. Its first home was the Positive Place Club on Downey Boulevard.

“We’ve come a very long way since then,” Clark said. “We’ve added more physical locations to serve parts of north Georgia and in 2017 we changed our name to Boys and Girls Clubs of Lanier to reflect our larger service area.”

The organization now has clubs in nearly a dozen area schools, plus the Positive Place Club, the Joseph F. Walters Club and the Club Teen Center in Hall County. Nine club locations in Habersham County and a new location at First Baptist Church in Buford offer more in-depth programming and services across North Georgia.

The organization continues to grow with two ongoing capital campaigns.

“Our Great Futures capital campaign in Forsyth has already raised more than $7.5 million of our $9 million goal to create a from-the-ground-up facility in Cumming,” she said. “Our new club there will allow us to serve 300 youth in grades K-12 at a new state-of-the-art 21,000-square-foot facility.”

It will be named the Tommy & Chantal Bagwell Club. Centrally located to Forsyth County’s Title I schools, it will have separate dedicated program spaces for nearly 300 elementary, middle and high school members.

“Our Great Futures capital campaign in Hall has raised over $8.5 million of its $12.5 million goal to construct a new, 25,000-square-foot two-story Positive Place Club, and a new gym at the Joseph F. Walters Club. The new facilities will allow the clubs to serve an additional 350 youth in Hall County.”

Hatching the duck derby

The first derby took place at Lake Lanier Islands Resort.

“We started with around 6,300 duck adoptions in 1999,” Clark said. “Companies like Marine Specialties Inc. and others have been strong supporters since the beginning and have set the tone for our community-wide advocates of the event.”

Within a year or so, the event moved to what is now Lake Lanier Olympic Park, former site of the 1996 Summer Games’ rowing, flat-water canoe and kayak competition.

Over the years, the event has grown to nearly 10 times its original participation numbers. From the beginning, it has been a family-friendly event with music, food vendors, kids’ activities, face painters and a petting zoo.

“This year, we had about 1,000 people come to the park on Derby Day,” she said. “And, as we did last year with 24,000 adoptable ducks to honor our 24th anniversary, this year we offered 25,000 ducks. We sold out completely the day before the event, telling us that our community support continues to be amazingly strong.”

Volunteers play a significant role in many parts of the event.

A volunteer "duck herder" in a kayak keeps ducks in line.

A volunteer “duck herder” makes sure the ducks don’t stray.

“With 25,000 ducks, we relied heavily on our volunteers to help ahead of the event,” she said. “Many people, including our very dedicated board members and friends of the clubs, helped ensure that all the ducks were adopted.”

But behind the scenes, more than 100 people showed up to tag the 25,000 little yellow rubber ducks.

“Our volunteers are amazing and tagged them all in less than an hour,” Clark said. “And no matter what we have going on, our volunteers are always right there to support us.”

Clark said that she expects the annual derby will continue to grow. Planning will begin in November for 2024 to allow plenty of time to line up sponsors and create printed materials and marketing support.

This year, the event is projected to raise more than $245,000 to be put back into the services and facilities of the 25 clubs.

A bit of history

Founded in 1954 as the Gainesville-Hall County Boys Club, Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier has helped kids and teens achieve “Great Futures.” The Girls Club, established in 1963, relocated to New Holland Recreation Center in the 1980s into space donated by Roger Milliken of Milliken and Co.

After merging the Boys Club and Girls Club in 1997, the organization began operating from the Positive Place Club on Downey Boulevard. In 2001, major renovations upgraded the club to serve both boys and girls.

Other physical locations were added: in 2006, the Teen Center began to provide programs including Career Launch and Diplomas to Degrees. By 2010, the Joseph F. Walters Club opened on Memorial Park Drive.

“The 2017 name change reflected our service beyond Hall County,” she said. “And in 2018, we opened a site in Forsyth County at Cumming Elementary School.”

The clubs’ mission has always been to inspire and enable all young people, especially those who need it most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.

“The club experience helps ensure that success is within reach for every young person who walks through our doors, with all members on track to graduate from high school with a plan for the future, demonstrating good character and citizenship, and living a healthy lifestyle.”

In 2022, the organization served 7,500 youth, ages 6-18 annually through 25 club sites in the Lanier area.

“Today’s kids have more paths to success than ever, but they also deal with more challenges, more risks, and more adversity,” Clark said. “Our programs encourage healthy lifestyles, build character and foster academic success so all young people can reach their full potential. Now more than ever – thanks to the amazing support of our community from businesses to individuals – we’re here for our young people to ensure ‘Great Futures.’ ”

For information about the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier, visit

Winners of the 2023 Duck Derby

With more than 25,000 ducks adopted 24 hours before the start of the 25th Annual Duck Derby, here are this year’s Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier prize winners:

  • Gina Farmer, $10,000 Grand Prize Winner
  • Matt Sullins, 1st prize: Diamond Solitaire
  • Lex Durham, 2nd prize: Four Family Arcade Packs at Main Event
  • Anthony Ward, 3rd prize: Kipper Tool – Home Repair Kit
  • John & Toni Bringuel, 4th prize: Lanier Islands Legacy Lodge/golf
  • Eric McNair, 5th prize: Tap It Pints & Growlers package
  • Brad Howard, 6th prize: Chick-Fil-A for a Year for Two
  • Carl Peoples, 7th prize: cooler from Hargrove Engineers/Constructors
  • John & Denise Burgess, 8th prize: Golf Package.

For more information, visit Dates for the 2024 Duck Derby will be announced in the fall.

Photos: courtesy Kim Martin Photography.