More than play

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After school, 14-year-old Derrick Dunn usually heads over to the W.T. Johnson Community Center near Cherry Tree Crossing housing complex to play basketball.

Beginning Monday, he got a chance to do a lot more when the Boys & Girls Clubs of Augusta began a program there.

The clubs themselves are getting a new beginning for their administration thanks to University Hospital's foundation.

A day after crowds at Cherry Tree pelted police with bottles and rocks after a shooting, the mood was subdued at the center as staff began enrolling kids in the program.

"This is the time they need us the most," said Gary Winferry, the operations director for the clubs. The after-school "life skills program" will offer them everything from homework help to financial literacy and career development, in addition to activities, he said.

"They'll still get an opportunity to play basketball but it won't be just right away," Mr. Winferry said.

At Cherry Tree, the club is exactly where it should be, he said.

"We serve those kids who need us most," he said. "We're a friend to the community. We're here to provide support to them."

The clubs are getting some additional support, courtesy of University Health Care Foundation.

They were given an old SunTrust Bank branch building that they are renovating for administrative offices. The building has been vacant for 10 years and has asbestos under its roof, which now needs to be abated, said Kam Kyzer, the executive director for the clubs.

But the property also includes more than an acre of land off Milledge Road that would allow for future expansion. The whole package is worth more than $290,000.

"We're beyond excited," Mrs. Kyzer said. "We are so grateful."

Though it will cost about $100,000 to get the building spruced up, the renovations will allow the administration to move out of three classrooms at the E.W. Hagler Club.

That will free up room to add 30 to 40 more children to the 130 a day who receive services there, she said. It will also allow administrators to work without the sound of that many children in one building.

"It's quiet here," Mrs. Kyzer said, her voice echoing within the stripped walls inside the former bank, complete with vault. "You cannot talk on the phone after 2:30 p.m. (at the current offices). It's loud but in a good way."

In fact, it is something the administrators will miss, she said.

"We're all sad because we are so used to being with the kids all of the time," she said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

GET INVOLVED

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Augusta are renovating an old bank building as their new administrative offices, and the clubs are looking for donations of all kinds, from building materials and paint to donated services. For more information, call Executive Director Kam Kyzer at (706) 312-2200, ext. 4.

The clubs on Monday opened a program for about 50 kids at the W.T. Johnson Community Center near Cherry Tree Crossing public housing complex. The clubs are looking for about 50 mentors to work with those new enrollees. For more information, call the Volunteer Coordinator at (706) 312-2200, ext. 5.

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