Brenda Days plans on putting her feet up soon. Summer is almost here.
She's spent every Monday night since August swarmed by kids. She's greeted them at the door of the Greater Ridgecrest YMCA. She's been a sounding board, listening to their concerns. She's given out advice, and she's given out so many hugs she's lost count.
Days is co-founder of Brenda's Kids, an organization for at-risk youth in the Greater Ridgecrest area.
The program was born out of the 51-year-old's personal tragedy. In January 2008, her son, Brennon, a senior at Largo High School, was shot to death by two other teenagers during an armed robbery.
At Brennon's funeral, Edward "BeBe'' Hobson, a minister at Shiloh Baptist Church in Largo and vice president of Pinellas County YoungLife, challenged the young people there to change the direction of their lives to prevent other tragedies.
"Brennon's friends reached out to us then, and we decided to start meeting on Monday nights,'' Days said.
In the spring of 2008, Hobson and Days started Brenda's Kids, and about 60 children have become regular participants.
They come together and eat hamburgers and hot dogs. Some play pickup basketball. Others go off in groups of five or six to socialize.
"When we started, we aimed for older teenagers like Brennon,'' Hobson said. "But we realized we needed to get to kids earlier because by the time they are teens it's too late.''
Churches and social service organizations in the Largo area donate the dinners on Monday night and help coordinate special programs.
"It gives them a peaceful place to come together, but we also want to help them explore their vision of life,'' said Hobson. "We want to show them that life is more than what they see every day, in their 2-mile radius of their house.''
Earlier this month, members of the Largo/Mid-Pinellas Democratic Club visited Brenda's Kids to take part in a project to send President Barack Obama a package of letters.
"The kids worked hard that night,'' Hobson said. "At first, it was like pulling teeth, but once they started writing, they got into it.''
Reginald Moore, 15, said attending meetings like the one with the Democratic Club has given him a chance to "work on being a leader.''
"I decided to come (to Brenda's Kids) when a friend of mine was walking in here,'' he said. "But it was my mom who taught me to follow rules and to mentally focus on school work, and I told the kids here, it's not hard to write, just listen to the directions.''
June 7 marks the last meeting of Brenda's Kids until the fall. Days admits to being ready "for a little vacation.''
Still, Hobson expects to see most of Brenda's Kids over the summer on visits to the summer camp at the Greater Ridgecrest YMCA.
"But just like most summer camps in the area, the YMCA does not have a program for older teens, over 14,'' he said. "So if a family has not made plans yet, my advice is for parents to take them to local supermarkets and businesses to find a summer job or get them volunteering for organizations.
"Keep them busy, other than sitting at home alone all summer.''
Reach Piper Castillo at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4163.