There's a new secret in south Augusta, and it's worth sharing.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Augusta has two new clubs that are operating in Jamestown Elementary and Morgan Road Middle schools. The clubs opened in September, thanks to federal funds through a state grant from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program.
An annual assessment in the community revealed that south Augusta "had the greatest need, because that particular area is a hotbed for gang activity," said Kam Kyzer, the executive director of Augusta's Boys and Girls Clubs. The assessment is done in conjunction with the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Parks and Recreation Department and the Richmond County School System.
Unable to find a site, Kyzer said the clubs considered using school buildings, which brought a few challenges -- the first being space.
Judy Heath, the director of the two new clubs, said the school principals and staff have been extremely supportive and accommodating in making space for them. Even so, the challenges didn't end.
The mission of the Boys and Girls Clubs -- enabling young people to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens -- is accomplished through a program of various activities after school. In this case, the activities take place from 3 to 7 p.m. in the rooms the children have been in since early that morning. To battle the monotony, they begin with a 10-minute recess to burn energy, then a snack, followed by rotations to activities. The game room has a pool table, foosball and air hockey.
"We play board games like Monopoly. And yesterday, I was out there trying to jump rope with them," Heath said with a laugh. "That didn't work out so well for me."
There are about 120 members at the Jamestown Elementary club and 60 at Morgan Road Middle. Their activities include homework, work in the computer lab, recreation in the gym and crafts in the art room. Once a week, people from the Art Factory, the Jessye Norman School of the Arts and the Girl Scouts have small group sessions there.
"This is a whole lot more fun than staying at home and watching TV," fifth-grader Tatiana Lopez said.
Tatiana likes STEM class -- Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics taught through the use of Legos -- the best. It is taught by Gary Dennis from the Jessye Norman School. In last week's class, the fourth- and fifth-graders were making geometry shapes from Legos and showing off their right angles, finding the hypotenuse and figuring the area of the shapes.
"We had this on the benchmark today," Tatiana said after she correctly answered a question.
And that's one reason Jamestown Elementary Principal Jacqueline Eason is happy to have the club in her school.
"Their scores have gone up in benchmark and 15-day assessments," she said. "I'm excited about what they're doing and what all they're exposing the kids to. I hope we get it back next year."
Kyzer said the clubs are funded to be in the schools for three years. After that, they will need to move to another facility in the community. Right now, only pupils at those particular schools are eligible to be members, but other children can join after the clubs are in their own place.
It's hoped that before then the community will become more involved.
"The other challenge we have here is that south Augusta doesn't know we're here," Heath said. "So there aren't a whole lot of mentors. The other clubs have business members and volunteers who help, but ours don't know we're here."