By Philip Jankowski
Killeen Daily Herald
Though the large majority of students the Boys & Girls Club of Central Texas serves in after-school programs are located in Killeen, the city of Killeen does not assist in funding the program.
The nonprofit organization recently asked the city to consider giving $140,000 annually to its Army Youth Programs in Your Neighborhood program which provides after-school supervision and supplements daily operations at the seven middle schools located in Killeen.
The city of Harker Heights provides $40,000 annually to the program, and a nonprofit sub-unit of the Copperas Cove Housing Authority gives $75,000 each year, the treasurer of the Boys & Girls Club of Central Texas said.
The U.S. Army pays for most of the program. It supplies total funding for any child participant who is a son or daughter of a soldier.
But the program actually began with $80,000 of seed money the city of Killeen provided in a one-time payment in 2008. Since then, the program has grown immensely.
Local Boys & Girls Club board treasurer Wallace Vernon made the request to several Killeen City Council members last week during an open house meeting focused on the budget.
The program initially served four middle school campuses in the Killeen Independent School District. After its first successful year, KISD asked the program to be expanded to all nine of its middle school campuses.
Without further funding, that seemed impossible until the Army provided funding that boosted the program's coffers and eliminated sign-up fees.
The Army now provides $640,000 of the $825,000 needed for Killeen middle schools. Civic organizations provide some further funding for the project as well.
The Boy & Girls Club operates four bingo halls in Killeen. Vernon said he believes the bingo tax revenue the city earns from those parlors should be used to fund the program.
The need for additional funding has intensified recently amid large increases in the program's enrollment. The number of students in the program rose about 21 percent in the past year, Vernon said.
On average, the program serves 739 students each day. Total enrollment for the last school year was 2,257.
At current levels, the program only has enough money to serve 20 percent of students in KISD and Copperas Cove.
"That's simply because we don't have the staff we need," Vernon said.
Beyond providing after-school activities for students, staffers also provide a variety of services during the school day.
Liberty Hill Middle School Principal Brandon Bringhurst said each staffer acts as an additional responsible adult who interacts with students.
"They're here during our lunch, monitoring and running the lunch, but they're also talking to the kids," Bringhurst said.
Program coordinator Tiana Marratta said the program takes a different shape depending on the campus.
Staff have the ability to give at-risk students the extra attention they need to catch up on school work. They can also serve in intervention purposes, providing an adult voice outside of the parent-teacher relationship.
"It's a lot easier for them to calm down and open up to us," said Marratta.
After school, students continue their learning through what Marratta calls a "power hour." It is an incentivised learning experience that injects recreation and games into subjects.
Students can earn "power bucks" that can be used to purchase school supplies by proving they completed all their assignments. Getting an A on schoolwork also gives a student an entry into a raffle where they can win an iPod.
The overall goal is to provide a safe environment to children whose parents may not be home when the school day ends.
"Instead of having them come home to an empty house, they can come in and learn something," Boys & Girls Club Deputy Chief Professional Officer Calvin Darthard said. "It's a safe, positive environment."
But staff will fill in where necessary. When a staff member at Rancier Middle School who was a teacher and coach died suddenly in May, several program staff went to the school to free up teachers so they could attend his funeral.
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.