Late Friday afternoon, eight kids were gathered at a clubhouse at Cypress Park Apartments on South Lehmberg Road in Columbus, six of whom were playing a game of musical chairs under the direction of Natasha Morris.
In the restaurant business, this would be called a “soft opening.” By Monday, Morris, who works with the Boys and Girls Club of the Golden Triangle, expects things will be different.
For starters, they’re going to need more chairs to play the game.
“We’re set up for 50 kids,” Morris said. “And I think we’ll have 50.”
The Boys and Girls Club of the Golden Triangle, with centers in Columbus and Starkville, have a combined average daily attendance of more than 230 kids in the K-12 age group.
But what is happening at Cypress Park is a first, not only for the Boys and Girls Club, but for the apartment complex. Cypress Park is a 144-unit privately owned low-income housing complex. It is among 26 multi-family housing properties Ambling Companies LLC manages in Mississippi, and it will become home this week to a Boys and Girls Club-led after-school program for its young residents.
“This will be the first time we’ve operated a club outside of our own facilities,” said Nadia Colom, the CEO for the club. “We’re excited to see how this goes. It definitely opens up some new possibilities for us.”
How it started
The idea originated with Cypress Park manager Amanda Miles who recognized both a need and an opportunity.
“We have about 175 school-age kids … living at Cypress Park,” Miles said. “We had a second clubhouse that wasn’t being used, and felt like it was a waste of space, so we were trying to come up with something useful to do with it. We came up with the idea of an after-school program because we saw a need for our residents, especially the kids. This is a first for our company and the only multi-family community in the area that is doing this.”
Cypress Park started the program in January, with volunteers working with a small group of kids, but Miles had already started laying the groundwork for expansion.
“In order for us to grow and allow more kids to be involved, we knew we had to get someone to help us run this program,” Miles said. “That’s where the Boys and Girls Club comes in.”
Colom said she was intrigued by the possibilities of expanding the reach of the Boys and Girls Club beyond its traditional facilities.
“The idea of partnering with Cypress Park seemed like a good idea,” she said. “At that point, it was just a matter of working out the logistics.”
With the contracts signed early this year, the new project is set to go.
How it works
The Boys and Girls Club will provide the staffing — with Morris coming over from the Columbus center to direct the club — as well as program materials. The club will also provide an after-school snack and dinner for the program, which runs from 3-7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
For its part, Cypress Park will provide the clubhouse, maintenance, utility costs and other support. It has also agreed to split the fees with the Boys and Girls Club, which will provide the program for the kids at Cypress Park free of charge.
“We currently have several tables and chairs, a reading corner with books and bean bags, chalk boards, art and school supplies, and a TV and computer that were donated,” Miles said. “We also have a kitchen there.”
Miles is eager to see the program in full operation. Friday’s open house allowed parents to learn about the program. Parents can enroll their children online.
Zaria Henderson, 8, is a second-grader at Franklin Academy, one of the eight kids who got a head start in the program this week.
“It’s a nice place,” she said. “There are a lot of kids to play with and a lot of fun things to do. I’m happy that we have this. It’s more fun than playing by yourself.”
While the program features fun games and activities, it also serves a greater purpose.
“It’s not day care,” Morris said. “We want the kids to have fun, but we’re also really working with them in a lot of areas — homework, conflict management, character development.”
Morris confesses she’s a little nervous as Monday afternoon approaches and the clubhouse if filled with eager young faces.
“It’s going to be a challenge, both for me and the kids,” Morris said. “We’ll have to get to know each other, what the program is all about and how we do things. At the same time, I think all of us are looking forward to Monday. It’s going to be exciting.”