Nov 06, 2019
By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
After years of trying to make it happen, Clayton and Henry counties are launching Boys & Girl Clubs to offer south metro Atlanta kids access to after-school programs.
The programs, which will both be funded through a combination of municipal dollars and private fundraising, are slated to open their doors in early- to mid-2020 and reach hundreds of children, from elementary students through high schoolers.
“I call this the hope project,” said Henry Commissioner Dee Clemmons, a leader in the effort to bring the program to the county and an alumna of the Boys & Girls Club in Decatur. “We have nothing like this in Henry County. There was a need in the southern region.”
Supporters said the clubs couldn’t have come at a better time. Henry needs the club because it doesn’t have enough youth programs to keep up with its rapid population growth, which has almost doubled since 2000. Clayton, meanwhile, has seen an explosion of transient families move into the community where many children are left without supervision when the school day has ended.
“Pointe South really needs it,” said Clayton Commissioner Felicia Franklin-Warner, who has spearheaded the county’s Boys & Club effort, said of one of those communities. “I won’t say they need it most because that may be unfair to other areas … but we could not go in there with the same platforms we’ve used in the county.”
Sustaining it won’t be easy. The Thomasville Heights Boys & Girls Club in southwest Atlanta was shuttered last summer after eight years of operation because of a lack of funding.
And initial support can erode. The city of Stonecrest and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta earlier this year called off a plan for the youth group to take over a summer camp in the South DeKalb community after residents expressed concerns that it could lead to job losses for those already employed at the camp.
Henry and Clayton leaders said they have nailed down initial funding for the programs.
Henry and the city of McDonough are pledging a total of $300,000 for at least the first three years of operation, Clemmons said, while Clayton plans to spend about $200,000 to operate its program, which will be located at the Southwest Intergenerational Center under construction on Flint River Road. The Henry school board is considering donating space for the county’s club and may vote on the facility soon.
“We have a true partnership this time, and a true partnership will get this done,” McDonough City Councilman Craig Elrod said last month during a Henry community meeting about the club launch. “This is an investment in our youth, so we are here for you and we are your biggest cheerleader and your biggest partner.”
Clayton’s club, which will launch in summer 2020, will be affiliated with the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta, Warner said. Henry will be part of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Georgia.
“You are on the verge of something great,” Phillip Bryant, CEO and president of the Central Georgia group, told the community meeting audience last month.
Elon Rodney, an officer with the Clayton County Police Department, said he expects thinks there are a lot of benefits to the organization. Patrolling the Pointe South community, he deals with a lot of young people who get in trouble because they can’t afford after-school activities or live in areas where they aren’t available.
“They have idle hands and they don’t see the opportunities in themselves, so they get into bad things,” he said. “This gives them a place to go to instead of walking around aimlessly throughout Clayton County.”
He added that mixing the youth in with seniors at the Intergenerational Center would also expose them to Clayton residents who can act as guides.
“It will bring a lot more people together and give the younger generation the opportunity to be mentored by the older generation,” he said.