Boys and Girls Club targets highschool students

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COLUMBIA - Construction workers are wrapping up the building expansion on the Columbia Boys and Girls Club. 

The Boys and Girls Club of Columbia fund-raised $2.5 million, and the city council is contributing $500,000 to pay for the expansion. $300,000 of the city's contribution is for construction and the other $200,000 is dedicated to programming.

The expansion is a part of the new "Capital Campaign: Changing lives one kid at a time." The club is partnering with the city of Columbia and Columbia Public School District.

Executive Director Valorie Livingston said, "We're trying to create an environment for the kids that is safe, they have positive role models in their lives, opportunities for academic success, healthy lifestyles and good character and citizenship." 

Miles Gibson, former club participant and current employee, said the club saved his life. 

"So I've been with the club for about 12 years now. I served as a club kid for about eight years, and when I was 15, I transitioned over to be a staff member. I loved the staff and connections we had with staff. And even though they've moved on to work on their careers, I really liked the program and everything it had to offer," Gibson said.

Construction workers will add 14,000 square feet to the building. The Boys and Girls Club will utilize the additional space for an indoor basketball court, a larger cafeteria, recording studio, a performance stage, a room dedicated solely to high schoolers and a culinary kitchen.

Gibson thinks all of the new amenities will go over well with the kids, but thinks the new culinary kitchen will be a particularly huge hit.

"The kids have been talking about the cooking classes already, so I think it's going to be a great addition to the program," Gibson said.

In addition to the new space, the Boys and Girls Club will also provide new services to enrich the lives of at-risk youth and provide professional development opportunities. Services include career development, career shadowing, mentoring, and employment skill training.

The Boys and Girls Club has been around for 20 years. It provides after school programming and sports programs for elementary and middle school age children. 

"The majority of the kids we serve are elementary, and then when they go to junior high they start to drop off and in high school they would stop coming altogether. And we believe it's because we don't have enough dedicated space for those age groups or age appropriate programs for those age groups," Livingston said. 

The Boys and Girls Club provides youth in the Columbia area with various programs that fall into five core program areas. Those program areas are character and leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, fine arts and sports, and fitness and recreation. The program currently runs 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and will now be open on weekends. The program also runs throughout the summer from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

According to the Boys and Girls club website, "In every community, boys and girls are left to find their own recreation and companionship in the streets. An increasing number of children are at home with no adult care or supervision. Young people need to know that someone cares about them." 

Last year the program was able to serve 800 youth, but this year, due to the expansion, they're aiming to serve thousands. The program is open to all youth, but one of the biggest problems accessibility.

"We want all kids to feel like they can come here, and of course the biggest barrier most kids have is transportation. That's our biggest barrier as well when it comes to serving the kids: how do we get them here and how do we get them home? And that's a very expensive challenge as a non profit," Livingston said.

The club is still accepting donations and as an incentive the donor's name will be put on a brick in the club's courtyard area.

Construction will be completed, and students will return September 11. The Boys and Girls Club will host a grand opening in October.