Cindy Hooker, Benton Unit director, explained the benefits and reasoning behind the move.
“A lot of people associated us with being a part of the church, so now we have our own separate identity,” Hooker said. “Sometimes we would have to leave the building for church events. Now we will not have to share a space anymore.”
Safety features unable to be implemented at the old site were constructed into the new building.
All rooms are built into the building’s exterior walls. Large windows have been placed along each room’s inside wall and doors. Charlie Sutton, BGCC director, said the windows throughout the inside of the building allow for visual surveillance by employees.
Additional safety features include cameras placed throughout the inside and outside of the club. These devices will add a second hand to surveillance by monitoring all activity on the property. Buzz doors separating the lobby and the club will provide a waiting area for visitors until they are properly processed.
Like the other BGCC units, children will also sign in on iPads when entering the building and changing programs.
Added Hooker, “We are very proud of the safety features in the building.”
Construction began in October and was made possible thanks to a USDA Rural Development loan and grant.
“When it was all said and done, we ended up with $100,000 in grant money just from USDA looking and trying to help us out,” Hooker said. “The building was $400,000, not including sewage.”
Grants are given by USDA to towns of up to 20,000 in population for public entities and nonprofit corporations. Hooker said taking a loan out for the unit and paying a monthly rate is more manageable than paying rent.
She said she sees the new building as only phase one in a three-part plan for the unit.
“We hope in the future we will be able to build a gym and teen center,” Hooker said. “There is not really anything for our older kids to do.”
Teen pregnancy and low graduation rates are two factors Hooker hopes to combat by providing more teen-centered activities. There are currently around 15-20 teenagers who consistently visit the unit.
While further construction will not be completed at this time, Hooker assured, “We really want to provide that space.”
Youth planning on attending the unit this summer can expect their education to continue even while out for school.
“One of the things Boys and Girls Clubs of America is really focused on right now is working really closely with our education system,” Hooker said. “All of the kids at our clubs who graduate have a life plan.”
Children still years away from graduation are still kept in mind. Hooker said the big focus right now is STEM, or Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. Members young and old will enjoy a variety of projects from creating volcanoes to shooting off rockets.
Hooker is excited for the club members to see one room in particular.
“We had a lot of things donated from the Adult Learning Center,” Hooker said. “There are a lot of educational tools geared toward children there.”
She explained the club in Cleveland was not initially supposed to be a part of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. The plan was for a youth center before the idea developed into something more.
“We are way more advanced than what we would have been on our own. Cleveland [clubs] have so much experience and they really are a leader in a lot of things going on state-wide,” Hooker said. “We are glad to be under their umbrella.”
Benton Unit’s grand opening is scheduled for August.