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Boys & Girls Club building could be finished by spring

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    Michelle Brackin and Don Russell at the bus drop-off of the Boys & Girls Club now under construction at Roper Park. More funds are needed to have it ready for kids by spring.

    It’s only when you actually visit the worksite for the new Boys & Girls Clubs building that you realize exactly how big this project is. Even the 20,000 square foot description doesn’t convey the magnitude of this project, now well underway behind the recreation center in Roper Park.

    A tour given recently by Michelle Brackin, the executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of North Georgia, and Don Russell, the project manager and chief fundraiser, showcased the structure and planned uses of the different rooms which have walls framed but are waiting for interior work.
    However, construction on this worthwhile project will slow down significantly unless a final push for fundraising is successful soon. The board for the Boys & Girls Club has pledged to not go into debt and are coming to the end of the funds already accumulated.
    The project was budgeted at $2.3 million, but extras added during construction bumped it up to $2.4 million. Thus far they have raised roughly $2 million but lack a final $350,000 to complete it to a point they can move in.
    “If we had the money today, we could complete it by February or March,” said Russell. But he emphasized they will continue operating using their current locations rather than entertain ideas of going into debt to rush completion.
    The structure includes three distinct sections, one for pre-teens, one for teens and a health and fitness area big enough for full court basketball.
    Executive director Brackin said she and local club volunteers put hours and hours into the design, which is unique among Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide. Brackin contributed a lot of input to the plans, drawing on a lifelong experience with Boys & Girls Clubs. She first got involved with the organization as a youth when she was growing up in the outskirts of Baltimore and then as a director here since 2005. The fact that the building is clearly divided for teens and pre-teens came from her knowledge of what kids in these programs want. It has received positive reactions from the national organization for its distinct floor plan.
    “I know the 17-year-old and 6-year-olds don’t want to go to the same place,” she said. The teens’ area is known simply as The Club and all those entering must be at least 13.
    The pre-teen area is known as the Boys & Girls Pre-teen Club.
    Both sides and the gym are designed to appeal to young people. Brackin said they understand no kid will want to come somewhere it feels like they are getting lectured in a classroom.
    “We have something for everyone. If you like sports we have the health and fitness area, and for arts we have fine arts and performing arts and a recording studio and we have plenty of places to hang-out and let kids be kids,” she said.
    The Boys & Girls Club board is putting top priority on building a place kids will want to come. Part of this is creating spacious areas planned for couches with solid internet access. Brackin said she envisions teens hanging out on the couches with their phones out. Not an ideal picture, but part of the local clubs’ philosophy of creating fun and then “slipping in” the educational programing and mentoring.
    Brackin said this is the type of place where she hopes kids will form their own “cool kids gang,” but one that is supervised and offers plenty of positive interactions. And, for the record, Brackin is well aware that kids today would be completely embarrassed by the terminology of “cool kids gang.”
    Alongside fun amenities are plenty of computer labs and places for homework help from mentors. A good example of the Boys & Girls Club fun/education style are future plans for a video game tournament but with a half-time where their Smart Moves drug and alcohol prevention program “is slipped in.”
    While a gym is the best description of the large space, Russell is quick to point out that it will be a “fitness area” suited for all types of athletics and games. It is not designed nor intended to compete with organized sports programs.
    For parents the most important asset may be why many people already send their kids to the local Boys & Girls Clubs,  “This is definitely a place parents can feel that their kids are in a safe and supervised environment,” Brackin said.
    Boys & Girls Club officials recognize that the most dangerous time in a kids’ life – “is 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. everyday.” Statistics show that kids get into the most trouble during those unsupervised hours after school before parents can get home from work.
    Russell said his goal in bringing Boys & Girls Clubs to north Georgia is to combat teen problems through supervised programs and positive role models.
    “Mentoring is the most important thing we do,” he said.
    Russell said he had quite a compliment recently when a kid told the 70-plus-year-old-Russell that he was “bad.” Russell said he had to ask, but the kid said it was meant in a good way.
    Russell extols the club as nothing less than a transforming power for Pickens County. The building he was showing off is built to accommodate thousands of kids over 50 years into the future.
    Imagine the difference that many more kids getting tutoring, having a place to go with positive role models, finishing high school at higher rates and being inspired will make in a county like Pickens, Russell said.
    Currently the Boys & Girls Clubs somehow squeeze 125 kids each day into four very small spaces spread around the county. Anyone who has visited the clubs knows that space is limited. When this  new facility is open two of the clubs will merge here and the other two will remain open.
    “We know the local clubs are important to the people in those communities,” said Brackin.        

Clubs operate now in Roper Park, both middle schools and the Ludville Community Center.
    With the new building they can handle 300 kids there each day, with enough space to accommodate 700 people for special events.
    At present, 60 percent of the kids that come to a club each day are elementary students with the rest from middle schools. Currently they only serve a handful of high school students, mostly as volunteers. It is in attracting teens to “The Club” where Brackin expects to see substantial growth.
    Several upcoming programs will hopefully put them over the top for fundraising. First is a brick fundraiser designed for people donating at smaller ($100 to $500 levels). You can access this and really help with the fundraiser on a Georgia Gives Day website,
    The other fundraiser, still underway, is for corporations or larger donors who may want to contribute larger amounts to have rooms named after them. Rooms thus far have been named for/by Global Restoration, Royston, Amicalola EMC, The Jerry Appleton Tech Center and Dick and Sue Hammill Education and Tech Center.
    For more information about the club or to contribute online, Checks may be mailed to Boys and Girls Club of North Georgia • P.O Box 649 • Jasper, Ga. 30143.