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Brandon Walker, David Varner and Nancy Waddell inside the Beech Street Boys and Girls Club in Decatur. The club is looking to boost membership.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Brandon Walker, David Varner and Nancy Waddell inside the Beech Street Boys and Girls Club in Decatur. The club is looking to boost membership.

Fewer youths at Decatur club
Boys and Girls seeks
to raise membership

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com 340-2438

David Varner glances across the activities room at the Beech Street Boys and Girls Club in Southeast Decatur.

He sees areas in need of upgrade, like the frazzled carpet on which he stands. The bumper pool table and two foosball tables need re-covering, too.

But two pool tables are in line for more wear before anyone rolls out fresh felt. And more than anything else, that's what Varner wants. More feet on the floor, more buzz at the tables.

"Membership is down at this facility, and we want to bring it up," said Varner, who has been chief professional officer of Boys and Girls Clubs of Morgan and Lawrence counties for three years. "We've averaged as many as 25 kids per day in the past, but now we're averaging 11 a day."

Varner said Beech Street, one of six units in the system open to the public for youngsters 6 to 18, had 86 members January through December 2006. As a comparison, he said the St. Paul's Lutheran Church Unit had 281.

The five other clubs open to the public are the Sixth Street Unit Northwest, Third Street Unit Southwest, First Baptist Church of Hartselle Unit and Hillsboro Unit.

The Morgan County Systems and Services Unit on Alabama 20 provides juvenile special needs.

The Beech Street club is in a high-traffic location, two blocks from Decatur High School, Somerville Road Elementary School and Oak Park Middle School. It is next to East Acres housing units.

"We welcome neighborhood kids to come in and apply. The cost is $15 for the after-school program for the whole year," Varner said. "We don't turn kids away because they can't afford it. We'll scholarship them and absorb the cost or get someone from the outside who will sponsor them. We only ask that parents be honest with us."

Underscoring the importance of improvement in attendance, Varner isn't depending on walk-in memberships only.

"Staff are calling previous members who have not joined this year and inviting them to return," he said. "We offer two-day free trial memberships. After that, we want them to join the club. We're asking parents in the neighborhood to get involved in the club by letting their children attend."

Varner said membership fluctuates and "some are slow coming back after holidays. And some kids come year round, some only during the school year and others only during the summer."

He said the club provides positive programs for children in a safe place but that it is not a day-care system or a latchkey club.

"They have the right to come and go as they please, and they sign in and sign out," he said. "But child safety is our concern, too. If a parent says he isn't to leave, we call the parent if he does."

Varner said staff maintains discipline and if children break rules they go to timeout.

"We need involvement from the community, whether it is monetary contributions or donations of supplies, arts and crafts or time," he said. "We do background checks as a requirement."

Varner and his assistant, Nancy Waddell, director of operations who has been with the Boys and Girls Clubs for 18 years, maintain offices in the basement of the Beech Street facility.

She visits all of the clubs during the week to see what they're doing and what they need.

Club hours

The Beech Street Boys and Girls Club at 1602 Beech St. S.E. is open year round Monday through Friday with the exception of certain holidays. During the school term, hours are from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and during the summer from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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