BROOKSVILLE — When Marie Marggette announced at the new Boys & Girls Club launched in June at Hillside Estates that a plant program was on the agenda, one of her young charges said he didn't like plants.
"I just don't."
"Give it a try," Marggette, the club's director, suggested.
No insisting, just gentle nudging.
Marggette knows that some kids resist an experiment, a learning opportunity, a challenge, because they believe they can't grasp it and might fail. So they act out instead.
To Marggette, an acknowledged lover of children with seven of her own to prove it, the Boys & Girls Club of America is all about making choices, widening youngsters' horizons and promoting education.
The child who didn't like plants now badgers Marggette about when he can take home his Styrofoam cup of growing grass and show it off to his family.
The Boys & Girls Club unit that opened at Hillside, a public housing project, has enrolled 24 youngsters, ages 6 to 14. It welcomes kids ages 5 to 17. It's an offshoot of the long-established Boys & Girls Club in Spring Hill and had been planned for about a year.
While there's a club atmosphere, with outdoor play that includes jump rope for the youngest set and pickup basketball for older kids, plus indoor game tables, and free breakfast and lunch and snacks, there's a decided bent on education in math and reading, as well as the building of strong morals.
The sports endeavor builds the notion of teamwork and physical stability, Marggette said. In the classroom or computer room — computers donated by Shiloh New Beginnings Church — children catch up on math and reading they somehow missed in school. Marggette does a one-on-one with her young charges.
"I start from Day 1," said Marggette, a graduate of LaGuardia Community College in New York with a major in juvenile justice. She previously worked as a counselor with children in the court system.
When they become club members, children are evaluated for their academic standing. Marggette composes an individual curriculum from there. Classroom endeavors are labeled Power Hour. A sign on the computer room door reads "Kids at Work."
Why didn't they learn in public school, and why are many behind academically?
"Some kids are afraid to ask questions," Marggette said. "They don't want to fess up that they don't know."
In the club's reading program, youngsters check out a book, read it, write a book report and tell it verbally to their peers as often as twice a week. The books have been donated by the Little Red Schoolhouse of the Hernando County Library System.
With a book, the children receive a stuffed animal they must care for, respect and love.
Like school kids everywhere, lunch is anticipated and embraced. On a recent day, Mahogany Westbrooks, 11, and Kyliah Cobb, 6, were selected to help serve their fellow club members. They donned gloves like professional kitchen workers and carefully carried plates of bologna and cheese sandwiches, pineapple compote, fruit juice and milk to their peers.
There's a lot of work to be done with the community and at the club site, Marggette said. "I want to get more children."
Although no parent has refused a request to enroll a child, said Josh Kelly, Marggette's supervisor, "I think the problem we have to overcome out there is so many programs have been there, in and out for a couple of weeks. We need to let them know we're there to stay."
The clubhouse is located centrally at the Sheriff's Office substation in the community.
The club was awarded a $40,000 reimbursement grant from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for programming and facility upgrades. The Community Foundation of Hernando County gave $5,000. Most of the money has been allocated for membership scholarships. For the summer, the enrollees have paid $10 for registration and $5 for an entire summer of programs.
Facility needs include painting of a scuffed interior, a perimeter fence and books.
Working with Marggette are program assistant Lawrencena Cobb, who wears a whistle on a lanyard as she coaches outdoor activities, and also directs arts and crafts activities, and offers homework help and counseling. Marggette's son, Michael Snow Jr., 14, volunteers as a junior counselor, as does Christopher Hibbert, 21.
The club showcased its offerings at Kids Day on Saturday, and hoped to sign up more members for the coming school year.
"Here, a lot of children play in the street," Marggette said of the challenges she faces. "They get into gangs. We have more children going to jail than to school."
She wants them to come to the Boys & Girls Club and find more rewarding pursuits.
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.