By Justin Reedy
When you're 15 years old and school's out, there isn't a whole lot to do during the day while your parents are at work.
To help combat this problem in Clayton County, local residents and community leaders are organizing an effort to start a chapter of the Boys and Girls Club of America here. Opening a Boys and Girls Club center in the county would give local children and teenagers a place to go for recreational activities, organizers say, which is something the county is severely lacking now.
"What it boils down to is in Clayton County we have a serious lack of recreational and non-school time activities for kids to do," said local resident Deb Salter, who works for the county school system in the pre-kindergarten program. "I've spoken to kids who have said they're tired of only going to the skating rink or not having enough money to go to the AMC Theater every Saturday night."
Salter was one of several students in Leadership Clayton, a local leadership development program, that worked on the problem of the county's shortage of youth recreation facilities this year for their class community project. That project will be picked up again by next year's Leadership Clayton class, she said, and is getting some help from a group headed by state Rep. Gail Buckner, D-Jonesboro.
Having a recreational center near home can help teenagers and younger children stay busy when their parents aren't at home in the evenings or during the summer. Such a center that opened recently n the Recreational Outreach Center of First Baptist Church of Jonesboro n has been quite a success, attracting children from around the county.
"It's a good place to be during the day," said 16-year-old Hampton resident Robert Wiggins, who visits the ROC on a regular basis. "There's not much cussing, and you don't have fights up here. It gives parents time to relax, plus it's free."
Riverdale resident Mike Watts, 15, also enjoys spending time at the ROC during the summer.
"It's a place where you can get away from home and have a good time," said Watts. "You can lift weights, play basketball, all that stuff."
Watts' mother drops him off at the ROC or takes C-TRAN, the county bus system, to the recreational center in Jonesboro.
"It's so I can hang out here instead of at home," he said. "It's a nice place to come and stay out of trouble."
With the ROC in Jonesboro and other teenager destinations in and around the central and southern parts of Clayton County, Salter says their Boys and Girls Club efforts will likely center on the northern part of the county. But don't expect the doors of such a club to open up anytime soon.
"We're still in the planning stages," Salter admitted. "What it comes down to is we need funding and a location. The (organization) wants a summer pilot program to ensure there's a community need, and hopefully the full center would come after that."
With some funding, as well as the assistance of Buckner's group and next year's Leadership Clayton class, she hopes that the required summer pilot program could start next year with the full center opening shortly afterwards.
The two groups involved in the Boys and Girls Club project meet today to discuss the process further, and anyone else interested in helping with the effort is encouraged to attend. The meeting is at 1 p.m. in the Allan Vigil Southlake Ford Community Room on Mt. Zion Road. For more information, call (770) 473-9783 or (770) 473-9039.