Every afternoon after school, 12-year-old Jakylia Collins gets off the school bus on 14th Avenue North to spend a little time at her home away from home.
For four years, she’s spent the gap between leaving school and going home at the Boys and Girls Club in Columbus, and she said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I couldn’t imagine myself going anywhere but here after school because I’ve been so used to coming here,” Collins said. “It would be weird if I had to go somewhere else.”
Collins is one of 25 students enrolled in the teen program at the Columbus club — one of 130 kids, some as young as preschool-age, enrolled altogether. Now the club could have the chance to open its doors to even more children and teenagers thanks to a $50,000 grant from Lowe’s Home Improvement’s Renovation Across the Nation program.
The Boys and Girls Club of America recently partnered with Lowe’s to fund a total of $2.5 million in grants for clubs across the country. The grants are for critical repairs, improvements and refurbishments, according to a press release from local club Executive Director Nadia Colom. Only one club per state received a grant.
Colom hopes to use the money to expand the teen center at the Boys and Girls Club.
Right now the 20-plus teenagers — whose ages range from 11-16, though kids up to age 18 can enroll — have one room in the center.
Colom and Teen Coordinator Aja White hope to either knock out one wall and expand the room or come up with a new center altogether. They’re looking into possibly buying a nearby building and renovating it for the center or building an entirely new one. The expansion could help the club recruit up to 20 or 30 more teenagers, depending on the space, White said.
“Hopefully this facility will help with (recruitment), fostering greater interest in the Boys and Girls Club,” Colom said.
Legacy of helping
The Boys and Girls Club of the Golden Triangle has locations in Columbus and in Starkville. It promotes academics, citizenship and a healthy lifestyle for children, Colom said. Every afternoon after school, students come to the club and work on homework before getting involved in programs that teach them about topics ranging from career readiness to how to have healthy relationships and the importance of healthy body images.
“I learned … don’t think you’re ugly, because you’re pretty,” 11-year-old Alivia Coleman said. “And to take good care of yourself.”
She and Collins, along with 11-year-old Kevin Chen, are all students at Columbus Middle School who have each been going to the Boys and Girls Club in Columbus for about four years. In those years, they’ve heard from speakers, worked with mentors from Mississippi University for Women and put on fundraisers and charities.
“We have a different topic every week,” Collins said. “And then we have an open discussion, and usually we write a story or an experience we’ve had about whatever the topic is for the week.”
Those topics could be anything from the importance of personal hygiene to the dangers of bullying, Collins said.
The students also said they were excited about what could come out of the possible expansions to the teen center.
“A snack bar,” Collins said longingly.
“A snack bar with a slushy maker,” Chen added.
And a disco ball, game systems, bean bag chairs, a lost-and-found area and just more space, they all agreed.
Work to begin next month
Colom hopes work on the center will begin in October and wrap up by January, which is when the grant dictates the project must be complete. Volunteers from Lowe’s will help break ground on the project and assist with materials and building, Colom said, adding she is grateful for the company’s support.
She also wants contractors and local business leaders to match funds and get involved so that the club can service more teenagers, she said.
The teenagers themselves may help too.
“They need a place to let them be comfortable and a space that they can create and decorate, a space they can call their own,” White said.
Collins said she hopes the teenagers will be allowed to help paint, and Coleman said she would be willing to help move equipment into the new space.
“It’s a good place,” Coleman said. “It keeps us out of…”
“Trouble,” Collins interjected.
“We could be out on the street in trouble somewhere,” Coleman added. “When we’re here, it keeps a lot of us from doing bad things.”