A lack of after-school programs in Jennings County has led a Seymour organization to step up and take charge.
The Boys and Girls Club of Seymour has successfully provided a safe, fun place and quality programming for Seymour youth for nearly 75 years, so it was no surprise they were asked to do the same in a neighboring community.
One year ago, the Seymour club piloted a program at Hayden and Graham Creek elementary schools. Of Jennings County’s six elementary schools, those two are the most remote and offered no after-school programming to students.
The Jennings County Youth Foundation approached Ryon Wheeler, executive director of the Seymour club, about starting a Boys and Girls Club there.
“Jennings County is probably one of the most in need in Indiana,” he said.
Wheeler, along with his board of directors, advised the foundation they first needed to raise enough money for a pilot program.
That was achieved, and the money was paid to the Seymour club to run programming from January to May, but then COVID-19 shut down schools in March 2020 and stopped everything, Wheeler said.
The pilot program was well received in its first couple of months, however, with 30 students attending both sites daily.
Seeing the success, Jennings County School Corp. later awarded the Boys and Girls Club its latchkey contract to provide before- and after-school child care.
This school year, the Boys and Girls Club of Jennings County added sites at Sand Creek, Scipio, Brush Creek and North Vernon elementary schools.
“While most places were just trying to survive (the pandemic), we expanded during all of this,” Wheeler said.
Although Jennings County’s programming is delivered at the schools and not in its own facility like Seymour, Wheeler said it doesn’t change the club’s mission and goals.
“We still do educational programming there. We still do healthy lifestyles programming,” he said. “Sometimes, you get creative and do it in the cafeteria or the gym or in a classroom, but it doesn’t really change our focus, which is to create productive, responsible and caring citizens. How we do that and where we do that doesn’t matter.”
Dylan McKain, a former intern of the Seymour club, was hired to lead the Boys and Girls Club program in Jennings County.
Through the club, students have access to Indiana Kids for homework help and job shadowing experiences along with mentoring services. In the near future, McKain said he hopes the club can add FIT 365, a physical fitness and healthy living program.
Right now, the Jennings County program is serving about 130 kids. Before-school care starts at 5:30 a.m. at North Vernon Elementary. Students are then bused to their respective schools. After-school care is available at all six sites until 5:30 p.m.
“The impact on children and families is amazing,” McKain said. “We can provide a safe space after and before school where kids can get a snack and play while being supervised by our staff.”
The program currently employs 13 staff members in Jennings County with 11 being teachers or teachers’ aides and one volunteer, he said.
“This allows our members to get a lot of homework help directly from teachers,” he said. “We can help give these children the tools they need to succeed in school and in life.”
The annual cost for families to enroll their children in the program is $50 per child. McKain said the fee makes the club an affordable option for families to have a safe place to send their kids.
“We have received an extremely welcoming response to our programming here,” he said. “The families that we serve are extremely happy to have this service available to them.”
McKain believes building a standalone Boys and Girls Club facility in Jennings County in the next few years would benefit the community.
“We could have buses drop kids off like they do in Seymour, and it would allow the kids to have more interaction with other students,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges the Boys and Girls Club has to overcome in Jennings County is the history of the failed attempts to open a YMCA there and the bad feelings it left with the community, Wheeler said.
To continue the Boys and Girls Club of Jennings County programming and expand the club in the future, Wheeler said people need to get behind it and get involved. That includes joining the club’s board of directors and being on committees and making monetary donations or donating items such as children’s board games and crayons.
Two major supporters thus far have been Decatur Mold and Tool and the Jennings County Community Foundation.
“We have to be able to sustain it at this level, and then we have to show growth and the ability to sustain that growth,” Wheeler said. “Our first step is always solid programming, but we do think there is an opportunity for something like (the Seymour club) in Jennings County.”
When it comes to fundraising, Wheeler said it’s important for donors to know money designated for Jennings County stays there.
But by sharing administrative resources, Wheeler said it helps drive down costs between the two clubs and allows them to serve more children effectively.
“We don’t want to just survive. We want to come out thriving,” he said. “Let’s take what we’ve really done well for 74 years and let’s help more kids.”
On the Web
For information about joining or supporting the Boys and Girls Club of Jennings County, visit facebook.com/BGCJenningsCo or bgcsey.org and click on the “What We Do” tab and choose “Jennings County Clubs.”
You also can email Dylan McKain at [email protected] or Ryon Wheeler at [email protected]