Thanks to the Shriners Hospitals for Children, boys like 12-year-old Gavin Smith can walk.

“The Shriners have been wonderful to us,” said Smith’s mother, Tannette, of South Boston.

Smith, who is the son of Kenneth and Tannette, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was 9 months old. He couldn’t walk -- only scoot around.

His mother found out about the Shriners through a friend who had a flyer, and she made an appointment for Gaven in September of 2004.

On Christmas Day, he took his first step with his brace on.

“The Shriners Hospital is a wonderful place. Whether you’re financially able or not, they help you. It’s a wonderful environment for the children with disabilities. It allows them to see other families just like your own who are going through similar struggles. The children realize there are other people like them,” said Tannette.

“I recommend them to anyone with orthopedic problems. Shriners Hospital is a good place to start. I’ll have to say Gavin is walking today because of Shriners.”

Many children like Gavin with orthopedic needs, or others with spinal cord or severe burn medical needs in the eastern part of Halifax County and the Western part of Mecklenburg County, have been supported in part by funds raised by local members of the Shriners.

Most of these children were treated at Shriner Hospitals in Greenville, South Carolina, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The only criteria for admission is that there be a reasonable possibility the child can benefit from available services as out-patients or through hospitalization. Sometimes the necessary services may extend over several years.

Support also may be available to cover travel expenses for patients and their families.

In recent years, six children from this area have been receiving services annually.

Periodic visits with staff and patients at the hospital reinforces the importance of this life-altering work and renews a commitment by local Shriners to do more to help.

Feedback from healed children and their families also reinforces the Shriner mission.

The South Boston Shriner Club first began as the Halifax Shriner Club in 1946 with 24 members.

The first meeting was held in the Masonic Room in South Boston, and officers were President Garnett Bledsoe; Vice President Wyatt W. Wall; Second Vice President Elijah Clark; Secretary and Treasurer Hunter C. Hay; and Ambassador and Chaplain Ralph Bellwood.

The club went to Acca Temple’s 60th anniversary celebration on June 8, 1946 in Richmond with 28 candidates, the largest number from any club in Virginia.

On June 15, 1946, the club held an initiation celebration of its own in South Boston.

The name changed to the South Boston Shrine Club in March of 1956 with officers President H. Lawrence Daniel; First Vice President Frank K. Reeves; Second Vice President Joe Hodges; Secretary and Treasurer A. W. Jones; Ambassador F. E. Jones; and Chaplain Ben Tuck.

In the early years, the South Boston Shriners acquired a 1949 Jeep convertible, which was painted a bright green and decorated with the Acca Shriner logo.

Former Virginia Governor William “Bill” M. Tuck, a 33rd degree Mason and honorary member of the South Boston Shriner Club, donated a large brass bell that was mounted on the front of the Jeep.

In 2015, the South Boston Shrine Club was renamed the Lake Country Shrine Club to better reflect the scope of current members and to help recruit additional members.

It currently has 20 members with current officers including President Dr. Reggie Young; Vice President Willie Prince; Secretary Mike Sizemore; and Treasurer William L. Jones.

Individuals who wish to become a Shriner must first join the fraternity of Freemasonry and achieve the status of Master Mason.

Shriners today still use a Jeep as well as minicars in parades which members say are an enjoyable way for Shriners to remind everyone about the Shriners’ commitment to “helping kids.”

However, most of the organization’s activities are focused on fundraising for the hospitals.

More than 90 percent of the funds received from solicitations at cooperating businesses, lottery ticket sales and other fundraising efforts go directly to the hospitals and to pay travel costs for patients and their families.

Thanks to the generosity of caring people across the service area who respond to Shriners’ solicitations, every child in need of these services, with a few exceptions, can have access to exceptional medical care.

While medical privacy laws prohibit sharing information about specific patients, information about how to seek admission is available by calling 1-800-237-5055 or by contacting any local Shriner.

Local health care professionals also can help contact children with special needs to one of the Shriner hospitals.