Redolent with the grade-school smell of candy-flavored lip gloss, accoutered with classroom decorations listing colors and counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 fish, the youth center hums with low-level activity.
At tables covered with exercise sheets, folders, crayons and pencils, children apply themselves to their homework, hoping to have their school records posted on the wall under "Perfect Spelling Test Club" or "Perfect Attendance Club."
But all that activity could grind to a halt Friday unless the Augusta Youth Center can scrape together $10,000 to cover expenses until a government grant kicks in sometime in April, owner Pat Jones said. In a last-ditch effort to keep the center's doors open at 602 Third St., workers are focusing on fund-raising this week, including a 12-hour telethon Tuesday broadcast live on radio station WFXA-FM.
By late afternoon, they had collected $3,000, Mrs. Jones said.
"This is a very good program, and I think it's important that we try to keep it," said worker Tracey Sapp, pausing in the task of checking spelling sheets from her group of second-graders. "A lot of these children live for coming to the center for us to give them a little extra help with their schoolwork. And their parents have to work, so they need somewhere to go.
"You really feel proud when they come to you at report-card time and they've made the honor roll. I've got three or four on the honor roll right now, and one who's the `most improved."'
The center, which began at Sunset Homes and moved to Third Street five years ago, serves 65 children age 5 to 17, Mrs. Jones said. Twenty-eight are on honor rolls at their schools, she said with pride.
Shelves lining one wall are stuffed with books, games and jigsaw puzzles. A magazine rack displays rows of Time, Newsweek and Fortune magazines. Paper snowmen and snowflakes -- incongruously highlighted by the warm afternoon sun slanting into the building -- almost hide the iron protective bars on the front window.
Children at the center have time allotted for homework, reading, snacks and free time, as well as neighborhood walks and trips to nearby May Park.
"I've been here three years," said Randall Youmans, 9, rolling a spare crayon across his homework sheet and earning a nod of agreement from his 8-year-old table mate, Dontrell Jenkins. "It's fun. Sometimes they might let you get on the computer and play games."
The center has survived for five years because an area businessman -- who insists on anonymity -- pledged $250,000 to pay bills, Mrs. Jones said. Now, the money has run out. The center will receive $10,000 as part of a Community Development Block Grant, but that federal money usually doesn't reach the city until April, City Administrator Randy Oliver said.
"If we can't raise this money, as of Friday, we won't be running," Mrs. Jones said. "We'll have to close the doors."
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