BROOKSVILLE — With new leadership comes new ideas, and the refreshed Boys & Girls Club of Hernando is taking bold steps such as setting up the county's second clubhouse.
Urged by parent organization Boys & Girls Clubs of America to expand into public housing complexes, the local club is aiming to open a center this summer in Hillside Estates in Brooksville, interim executive director Joshua Kelly said.
Kelly said the Brooksville Housing Authority is enthusiastic about having the Boys & Girls Club come to its facilities.
"It is vital to open a club at Hillside Estates, where gang activity is just beginning to grasp a hold on the teenage boys and girls,'' Kelly said.
"It is a proven fact that most juvenile crime is committed between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. (The club's) programs will entice the youth to spend their time with us where caring and supportive adults are available to teach, coach and be a friend."
"We realize the east side of Hernando County needs some type of programs for kids after school," board president Linda Voelker agreed. "There are kids who need to hang out after school and have opportunities for other programs."
The Boys & Girls Club has a nine-year history at 5404 Applegate Drive in Spring Hill, where it serves some 200 members ages 5 to 17. Voelker, who took on the role of president formerly held by Kelly, has been a board member for nearly two years. Kelly has been on the job for almost three months.
Other planned initiatives include adding before- and after-school programs at Suncoast Elementary School and the yet-to-be-built K-8 Explorer School, both in Spring Hill.
At the original club, the curriculum is being revised and will be a prototype for the east Hernando project.
"We saw the club turning into a babysitting service (with) too much TV and video games,'' Voelker said. "We wanted a hands-on approach. From the board's point of view, we want to see it more structured."
Envisioned are tutoring, a language project, outdoor gardening endeavors, more instrumental music lessons, arts and crafts, and health and life skills programs, many with the aim of developing character and exploring careers.
"Working parents don't have time to do this after dinner (with their children)," Voelker said.
And the kids will get plenty of time to play outdoors. "They need some letting-it-out," Voelker said. To that end, the club will install a basketball court and playground equipment.
The Brooksville Housing Authority is donating space in a 1,500-square-foot building at 800 Continental Ave. along with a 900-square-foot activity center. Remaining on the site will be a deputy sheriffs' substation, staffed daily.
The building may require some tearing down of walls and paint, Kelly noted, but nothing extravagant.
And funding is coming in. First was a $5,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Hernando County.
Notice is in hand that a $40,000 grant will be forwarded from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The club hopes for good news later this month on its application for $15,000 from My Hometown Helper, a program sponsored by the maker of Hamburger Helper.
Board member Barbara Sweinberg wrote the grant applications.
Startup costs for the center are estimated at $40,000, which will include outlays for renovations, tables, chairs and sporting equipment, Kelly said. But operational costs for the program, which is expected to attract 200 members, will run to about $115,000 a year. Staff is pegged at five paid employees plus volunteers.
The club envisions a $10 yearly membership fee for youths and a $5 to $10 weekly fee for before- and after-school programs with oversight and care in a safe environment. Voelker said organizers hope enough money will come in to provide a couple of monthly scholarships.
Brooksville Housing Authority executive director Ronnie McLean was excited about the prospect of having the club on-site. "This is really the beginning of a social service program with the Boys & Girls Club as a cornerstone," he said.
McLean envisions bringing in representatives from the state Department of Children and Families, Career Central and other social service agencies.
Beth Gray can be contacted at gray firstname.lastname@example.org.