PAULDING COUNTY, Ga. — When Kawana Walker's 10-year-old daughter, Alice, had her sixth birthday, she got a special present.
"As soon as she turned six, her attending the Boys and Girls Club was a birthday present to her," she said. "That was the first thing we did as she turned six."
The joy of attending the club lasted four years. Just last week, Walker was one of many parents who received the news: the Paulding County Boys and Girls Club will close in less than two months.
"To abruptly close in September without proper notification... just imagine the economic impact that's going to have on the families in the community. When you look at the cost of aftercare $35 a week, $140 a month per child, that can be a lot for a parent as we appear to be approaching inflation," Walker said.
That's one of many reasons why she stood in front of Tuesday night's school board of education meeting, pleading for help to keep the doors of the club open.
“A feeling of grief came upon us – the feeling you feel when you know you’re about to lose something you love," she said to the board members. “I request that the board appeal to the needs for our youth."
Last week, 11Alive interviewed other parents who were also shocked that the club of more than 20 years will unexpectedly shut its doors in less than two months. They said they found out through a text message screenshot of a letter.
For the club, this feels like deja vu. Two years ago, they had to raise $200,000 in order to be able to stay in service. The building is owned by the school district. The county is in charge of paying for any building maintenance and repairs.
“May I ask is there like a deadline? Or are we at a final resolution, in terms of trying to find sustainability for our organization?" Walker asked the board's chair.
"You can submit questions to Mrs. Taylor, and we'll make sure the superintendent gets back with you with the information that we have at that point. We're not specifically involved," he replied.
In a statement sent to 11Alive last week, the Paulding County schools superintendent, Steve Barnette, expressed his concern with the club's closure:
"The Paulding County chapter of the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta has served the students of Paulding County for many years, so we were disappointed to learn of the decision to close the club, and with only 60 days’ notice. The Boys and Girls Club provides unique programming and affordable after-school care for many of our families. We encourage the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta to reconsider their decision."
Walker brought suggestions to the table during the meeting.
"The one thing that I suggested was, if we were to use our community centers, as a resource to help facilitate more opportunities for this… to give children a free space, in order for them to be creative," she said. "The idea of the program is to change where it is orchestrated at the school. They're at school all day long so for them to be in a space of free will and creativity is special."
She said she was able to speak with one of the board members before the meeting.
“He was kind enough to provide his email address for me to contact him directly, in order to provide him some options, and how perhaps we can collaborate together in order to find the sustainability for this organization," she added.
Now, she remains cautiously optimistic for Alice and the many other students affected by this.
Last week, CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta, David Jernigan, sent 11Alive the following statement:
"For the past two years, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta (BGCMA) has been on a journey to strengthen the long-term financial sustainability of our Paulding County Boys & Girls Club. In 2020, our county board was successful in rallying the community to bring in additional resources, including a generous one-time gift, which gave us hope that there might be sufficient local investment to keep our Club open.
However, in light of recent conversations with the County and School District, insufficient resources to assume full responsibility for facility maintenance, and an inability to identify an alternative location, BGCMA has made the difficult decision to close our Paulding County Boys & Girls Club effective Sept. 30.
BGCMA is exploring partnership opportunities with other afterschool care providers to support parents and will also work with the Paulding County community to plan an appropriate celebration that recognizes the great work that has happened for kids in Paulding County for more than two decades."