Boys and Girls Club

Mary Keller, left with purple scarf, listens while the students express their views about the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Texas during a roundtable on Monday.

Julie A. Ferraro | Herald

KILLEEN — For military children, the challenges are many.

Some of those challenges were addressed at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Texas’ inaugural roundtable on Monday, “Better Together: A Military Public-Private Partnership.”

More than two dozen representatives from organizations throughout Central Texas participated in the discussion. Harker Heights mayor Spencer Smith, District 54 State Representative Scott Cosper, Mary Keller of the Military Child Education Coalition, staff of Texas A&M-Central Texas, the United Way and many Boys and Girls Club staff were present.

Held at the Woody Hall Unit-Lion’s Den in Killeen, the roundtable was meant to educate the community about how local Boys and Girls Clubs, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, have built a relationship with military children.

An effort is under way to reach even more.

Called “Operation 250K,” Dawn Brunson, military affairs representative for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, told those in attendance how vital it is to reach children of military-related families.

“Not just active duty, but reserve and Guard members,” Brunson said.

With the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Texas across a five county area serving 2,500 youngsters on average each day, both in the clubs and through school-based programs, according to Jon Charles, CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Texas, “Any time we listen to our kids, we learn something new.”

Twelve youngsters, mostly from Charles Patterson Middle School, spoke their minds, responding to questions asked by Mary Keller during a “listening session”.

Comments from the students included the ability for some to let their feelings out at the club when a military parent is deployed.

A major concern for the middle schoolers was having their military parent miss birthdays or holidays.

Having to move from place to place is another source of concern for the students. “Sometimes it’s hard,” said one.

The Boys and Girls Clubs, though, provide opportunities to have fun, meet new people and be comfortable.

Greg Calzado Jr. said, “The Boys and Girls Clubs help me get past my troubles, and get my mind of them.”

Other programs at the clubs enable the youngsters to complete their homework or learn leadership skills, Charles said.

The oldest member of the group in the listening session, Dayjah Cobb, is a student at Central Texas College, having earned a scholarship from the Boys and Girls Clubs. She also works for the local clubs.

Cobb believes programs such as teaching life skills, cooking or home economics would benefit the youngsters when added to current programs offered by the Boys and Girls Clubs.

“I just had to pay my first insurance bill,” Cobb said, promoting an idea to include a money matters course among the programs.

Sgt. 1st Class Abner Feliciano of Fort Hood’s 1st Cavalry Division spoke to the group. He will be deploying next summer, and his wife works an hour away. Having the Boys and Girls Clubs available for his son means not having to worry about him being safe after school.

Feliciano’s son is also named Abner, and he participated in the listening session. He enjoys his time at the Boys and Girls Clubs, and would also like “to make robots and do chemical experiments,” he said.

Liberty Hill seventh-grader Landyn Gray, 12, spoke to those present about being able to confide in the male staff members while his father is deployed in Kuwait.

Gray spoke of traveling to the Cal Ripken baseball camp in Maryland as one of the perks of belonging to the Boys and Girls Clubs.

“This club means a lot to me,” Gray said. “They make me feel like I matter.”

After the listening session, the students joined the adults at their tables for more discussions. The questions ranged from how the Boys and Girls Clubs could more effectively meet the emerging needs of military-connected families and individuals, and how to help military families transitioning to civilian life.

The Boys and Girls Clubs have identified the need to reach more military-connected youth because 1.8 million children have a parent serving in the military, with 60 percent of those being school age.

More information on the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Texas is available online at http://bgctx.org

jferraro@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7568

254-501-7568 | jferraro@kdhnews.com

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