Monday, November 20, 2017
News Roundup

Dan DeWitt: Making room for kids is imperative

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Separately, either one of these programs for kids in Brooksville would be great.

Put them together, though, and it turned into a bit of a mess.

The Hernando County Family YMCA has a summer camp for kids at the Jerome Brown Community Center this year.

At last, this organization, which has done so much for the west side of the county, has a presence on the east side. It's especially welcome because it offers scholarships for children whose families need the help. And in Brooksville, lots of families need help.

The second program is run by an organization, Building a Foundation Through a Product of My Environment, with a mission that is a lot clearer than its name. It reaches out to kids, most of them from needy and/or single-parent households. And for most of the past nine months, it has run the Sunday open gym at Jerome Brown at the city's Tom Varn Park.

As you may have guessed, that location is the problem. On Friday when I visited, one of the YMCA child care specialists showed me all the stations for different activities — art, music, reading, math, all sorts of games. That means lots of desks, chairs, mats, books and toys.

Packing it up at the end of the week and breaking it out again in time to open up for kids at 6:30 a.m. Monday is impractical. At least that's what city parks and recreation director Mike Walker told Reiko Brown, Building a Foundation co-founder, when she departed for the group's weekend camp at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort in early June.

Walker said Brown was supposed to get back with him to discuss options after she returned. She doesn't remember that — just a followup email saying the open gym would have to be canceled, at least for the summer.

The timing was bad, she said, because summer is when the indoor gym is needed most and because the Fort Wilderness trip attracted more than 20 kids, many of whom had their hearts set on open gym. And this, I should add, is more than basketball. It's also table games, such as foosball. One regular plays piano. Brown holds "rap sessions." Not counseling, exactly. Just a way for children and teenagers to talk about their worries.

She and Angela Gilbert, the other founder, had also found some volunteers to fill in on Sundays when they couldn't make it.

This isn't easy, as I found out when I ran the open gym as a lone volunteer starting last summer. By the end of the fall, I was ready to shut the door on the whole thing, despite consistently good turnouts, because nobody seemed willing to help.

Brown and Gilbert stepped up to rescue me and the program. So I'm not exactly impartial when it comes to Building a Foundation. Nor when it comes to the Y, having conducted my interview with the chairwoman of the board — my wife, Laura — on our living room couch.

Her reaction? There's got to be a way. And on Friday, it seemed, there was. The Y camp will move all its furniture, games and books to one side of the basketball court on Fridays, leaving it open for half-court games on Sundays.

With a little more communication, a mess is resolved.

And here's what's really great. For too long, there were almost no programs available for children at Jerome Brown. Now, the biggest problem is too many.

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