The kids pop out of the cars and buses in a hurry. It’s 2:45, activities at the Boys & Girls Club of Durant are about to start and it’s clear they don’t want to be late. As the kids arrive, Program Director Craig Andrus is out in front of the club building to greet them and, particularly for the younger ones, to let parents know there is a person on hand to take charge of the children. As they file in, Andrus hollers, “What’s the snack today?” “Pancakes,” they holler back and follow with a lot of high-fives. The pancakes have been donated by the Kiwanis Club, which had held a pancake event at the Fairgrounds that morning. Andrus notes that donations have come from time to time from the nearby city Health Department office, the Abundant Life Church and others. Snack donations are always welcome.
What’s on the schedule inside? “Power Hour” for starters — Almost an hour of homework or reading time for some, physical activity for others, followed by a healthy snack for all. And then a wide array of programs for the 100 or so members who arrive on any given day. The sessions are conducted by Southeastern Oklahoma State University students on the university’s work-study program.
Club Executive Director Jason Sands said, “We want to make it fun — run math relays, for example, or put on a play. It’s educational but we want it to be different from school.”
Sands, 36, took the job last December and, in a Daily Democrat interview, said membership has been growing — a couple of dozen in the past two months, for example. Not every member comes every day, so the daily average on hand is close to 100, out of a membership of around 150 divided about evenly between boys and girls. Membership for a year is $25, plus a program fee of $10 a week. Kids on reduced- or free-lunch school programs pay a program fee of $5 or nothing. All kids are welcome.
The growing membership, he said, increases the pressure for more space. The Democrat has learned that a meeting is scheduled for Nov. 15 for discussions about the club and the Durant Senior Citizens Center sharing space in the former Durant Middle School, which has been closed for several years, or other properties.
Sheila Risner, who manages the Durant Senior Citizens Center, at 301 N.16th, spoke enthusiastically about the meeting. Risner, executive director of the Bryan Country Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, noted that the Boys and Girls Club and the senior center both need more space but as non-profit organizations they have limited funds to either put up a building or lease large spaces.
The school district owns the Boys and Girls Club’s current building at 1303 Waco and donates use of its space to the club. Sands said the club’s funding comes from donations and grants, the fees the club generates and from the national Boys and Girls Club of America, based in Atlanta. Sands brings a lot of Boys and Girls Club experience to the job —most recently 12 years as director of the boys and girls club in Ft. Worth. Before that he had club director jobs in McKinney, Texas, and Hutchinson, Kan.
He grew up in Dallas and was a club member “off and on from age 10 to 18,” He went to Sterling College in Sterling, Kan., and graduated with an education degree. The Durant club packs in a lot between 2:45 and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. The members are grouped by age — 6-9, 10-12, 13 and up to 18, and the groups rotate among classrooms for 45-minute sessions on a variety of activities.
The daily calendar divides the sessions for the afternoon four ways — cultural enrichment, education, healthy life style and physical education, and social recreation, which might include closely monitored sessions on a computer, table games and more. For the teens, there is training on financial literacy, job-related skills such as filling out job and college applications, plus tips on dress, etiquette and language skills for job interviews, and more. In all the sessions, Sands said, the focus is on four key elements: importance of a healthy life style; citizenship, being a productive member in the club, the neighborhood, the city, the state, the nation; the importance of education; and the need to retain over the summer the knowledge and skills learned through the school year.
While the classroom sessions are run after school on weekdays through the school year, the club also runs a weekday summer program from 8:30 to 5, serving breakfast and lunch and many activities to the members.
Looking ahead, Sands said he’d like to “have an impact in the county.” All the members now come from the Durant school district, some by car, some brought in by district school buses and some walking in from Durant Intermediate School across the street from the club’s building at 1303 Waco St.
“I’d like to attract kids from Silo, Calera and other Bryan County towns,” Sands said.
He also hopes to launch a formal athletic program — ping pong, badminton, tennis, and perhaps little league baseball or basketball.
Noting the lack of places for teens to go in the evening, he said he’d like to open the club on Friday nights from 10 p.m. to midnight, for teens only, having had success with such a club in Hutchinson. He also hopes to begin recruiting more members from Durant and other county schools.