The Boys and Girls Club of the Brazos Valley has come to Burleson County. On Monday, the first students from the Caldwell school district will benefit from the after-school care and enrichment offered to children in kindergarten through fifth grades at Caldwell Middle School’s historic “Rock” gymnasium.

Last week, community members were invited to tour the gymnasium on Fawn Street, a stone structure erected almost 90 years ago and partially vacant in recent history, according to the school district. While middle school students use the building’s basketball courts for regular extracurricular activities, the adjacent activity rooms and classroom spaces were open for use for the first time in a long time. Last year, the Caldwell school district entered a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of the Brazos Valley, a Bryan-based chapter of the national organization. Seven of the gymnasium’s unused rooms have received a new coat of paint and flooring replacements in preparation for up to 50 children each weekday afternoon this semester.

According to Tiffany S. Parker, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of the Brazos Valley, the expansion of the chapter started with requests from Caldwell parents and some retired teachers during the summer of 2019.

“What happened in the very beginning is that concerned citizens [of Caldwell] reached out to us and asked us what it would take to get a Boys and Girls Club in town,” Parker said.

Many parents and guardians who live in Caldwell also work in Bryan-College Station, Parker said, and they commute the 30-mile drive home starting as late as 5 p.m. In some cases, their children are left unsupervised for hours after school.

“Out-of-school time is the most dangerous time for a child, from 3 p.m. till 8 p.m.,” Parker said. “The kids are not in school, and the parents are still at work, maybe even taking a night class or working a nighttime job.”

This semester, the Boys and Girls Club of the Brazos Valley extended the chapter’s reach by establishing the Caldwell Unit, which will have after-school activities from 3 to 6 p.m. Four to seven rooms of the formerly unused classroom space of the Rock gym will be used to give students free tutoring, supervised computer time, play time with various board games, and a free hot meal, courtesy of the Caldwell school district staff. This service will cost $15 per semester per child. As of Wednesday afternoon, during the open house at the gym, the club had several students already signed up.

“A common misconception is that these clubs are for poor kids,” Parker said. “We are for kids who need us the most. Some need us more than others.”

The Caldwell Unit will open Monday under the supervision of Emily Pearson, a Texas A&M senior. Soon, the organization will hire more staff, Parker said.

The historic gymnasium is being leased to the nonprofit by the school district for $1 per year. Caldwell schools Superintendent Andrew Peters said the Boys and Girls Club of the Brazos Valley will otherwise only be asked to pay for utilities.

“We passed a bond in November 2018, and we are turning this middle school campus into an elementary school,” he said. “And we won’t need this gym. I always said that we should use this gym for the community.”

Peters said once the school transition is made, it will be easy for the elementary school students to walk directly to the Boys and Girls Club after school program, instead of having to ride the bus. He also said he believes the hot meal provided each night will be beneficial for students.

“I think Caldwell has an extremely tough challenge,” Peters said. “We do have an after school program already, but it’s expensive [for some], and the day cares in town are full. Many can’t afford them.”

Peters said he’s happy to partner with an already-existing Boys and Girls Club chapter.

“They are experienced,” he said. “We are not having to reinvent the wheel here. They are guiding us.”

Parker said she’s also glad to bring a little life back into the old building.

“Some of the kids said that it doesn’t look haunted anymore!” she said.

To learn more about the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the Boys and Girls Club of the Brazos Valley, go to www.bgcbv.org.

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