BENTON, Tenn. — Casey Carver brought his stepson to the new Boys and Girls Club here Thursday for the tutoring program. Drake Lockhart said he doesn’t mind the extra hour of homework because of the perks that come with it.
“I don’t give a care as long as I can play,” Drake said as he twirled the handle of a foosball table. Billiards, computers and videos games are also available at the center.
Director Cindy Hooker said a lack of after-school activities for youth in rural Polk County inspired her to ask the Boys and Girls Club in nearby Cleveland, Tenn., to open a branch in Benton.
A $57,000 grant from the federal Office of Justice Programs paved the way for the Polk County center, which held its grand opening Thursday at Mercy Tabernacle on Clemmer Ferry Road.
“We don’t have anything here to offer our kids,” said Mrs. Hooker. “There is no where for them to go hang out. Our pregnancy rates are so high, and our dropout rates are so high, I want to give them an alternative.”
Mrs. Hooker’s research shows that in 2006 there were 31 pregnant girls aged 10 to 19 living in Polk County. And 2000 Census figures showed 10.3 percent of youths aged 16 to 19 were unemployed and not enrolled in school, she said.
“Our children need mentors,” Mrs. Hooker wrote in her proposal for the Benton club. “They need after-school and weekend activities to provide them with better alternatives than substance abuse and risky sexual behavior.”
The Polk County center is the seventh site opened by the rapidly-growing Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland. It’s the organization’s first foray outside Bradley County.
Executive Director Charles Sutton said the new club is “a leap of faith and a bold step” for the Boys and Girls Club. He said fundraising has begun in earnest to support the Benton center if the grant isn’t renewed next year.
The Benton unit has averaged about two dozen students, ages 6 to 18, each evening since its unofficial opening in December.
The club has 15 computers with Internet access, five flat-screen televisions and a large projection screen for playing the interactive Nintendo Wii video game system.
Mrs. Hooker said the club will also sponsor flag football, softball and other sports programs.
Mentoring initiatives such as the “Power Hour” tutoring sessions are also part of the Boys and Girls Club’s daily curriculum.
The center is open from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. during the school year and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the summer. Students pay a $10 membership fee to join.
“There is no doubt this is needed here,” Mr. Carver said during his foosball match with his stepson. “It gives the children the supervision they need, and hopefully they will learn something while having fun.”
IF YOU GO
The Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland operates the following centers in Benton and Cleveland:
* Benton, Tenn., Unit, 443 Clemmer Ferry Road
* Blythe Unit, 1035 Blythe Ave.
* Johnson Teen Center, 385 Third St.
* James Tucker Unit, 385 Third St.
* Reba Powers Unit, 1204 Lay St.
* 11th Street Unit, 841 11th St.
* Cleveland State Community College