PAULDING COUNTY, Ga. — After more than two decades, the Boys and Girls Club of Paulding County will be forced to close its doors.
Families, including Shrean Fawcett's, were notified last week about this closure, which will take effect Sept. 30, through a text message attachment.
"Today’s the first day of school and we got the letter Friday. You got us two months to get our kids on a waiting list to another program that already has tremendous waiting list all over the county... if there’s even a program that services our kids," Fawcett said.
Boys and Girls Club of Paulding County Chairman Selena Jackson-Guines added this will affect hundreds of children who they serve.
"We were in the middle of registration when we got the notice," she said. "There are about 200 kids on the waitlist but they just haven't had the opportunity to fulfill that."
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.
"They want to be able to support more kids but our county is a low-wealth county so we don't have the funds - or the county and the school district don't have the funds to be able to supply what he's asking for in the moment... but the kids are being served," Jackson-Guines added.
Parents feel that the only difference this time around is that there are no alternatives provided.
"I feel like we were kind of backsided on this," Fawcett added. "There wasn't a, 'hey, we need to raise money to keep it open,' it was a, 'nope, sorry, nice knowing you,' kind of thing."
Brandon Test, a board member of the club, said they were able to raise even more than that amount, demonstrating the need within the community.
"Nobody out here wants it to happen that’s for sure," he said. "Ultimately it sounds like it's coming from the CEO in metro but everybody out here, we’ve jumped through hoops the last two years. This community fought to keep this club open."
That CEO in question is David Jernigan of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta.
Jackson-Guines said she received a call from him on Thursday notifying her of this closure.
"He said, 'Unfortunately, Selena, we have got to close the club.' I asked him why, and he said, 'It doesn't fit the model for the Boys and Girls Club.' We don't have an outdoor space for the kids but we have a huge gym for them to play and run around. We've been here for 20 years and the kids have been serviced well," she said.
In a statement, Jernigan told 11Alive:
"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."
Jackson-Guines said no matter what other options are provided to parents, it won't be the same as the programs offered within the club for students of all ages.
"This is what they depend on – today is the first day of school and now they have to figure out and pivot and say 'how can I put my child in a program that’s equivalent to this?' Well guess what, it doesn’t exist," she said. "[The county] doesn't have it."
Jackson-Guines' asking for more time to find another facility to house students, to avoid having to permanently close the club.
"The request from David Jernigan was to get a new building, or build a facility that can hold all the kids, that doesn’t require any maintenance and has an outdoor space, a play area... the list was a laundry list which he considered a wish list originally and then it turned into an actual list – a must-do," she explained. "When the must-do list came about, we’re in the situation we’re in right now."
In a separate statement, 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."
For now, the doors officially close Sept. 30 unless the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta finds an alternative.
Gwen Robinson, who has a 16-year-old at the club, said she's hoping for Jernigan to reconsider, because she has no other alternative for her son.
"It was devastating," she said. "What am I going to do? I have nothing. [My son] has nothing. He immediately started to cry. We're lost. This club literally saved my son. It's very hard to find a program for a teen that will allow them to grow and mature. This facility gave my son his first job."
In the letter sent to parents via text, Jernigan writes, "we will work with our beloved Paulding County community to plan an appropriate celebration where members, staff, and volunteers can come together to recognize the great work that has happened for kids at the Paulding County Boys & Girls Club."
As for Fawcett, she said there is nothing about this that should be celebrated.
"If there's such great work, why are we shutting it down? And why a celebration when you're pushing all these kids out to the streets after school?" she asked Fawcett.
Jackson-Guines agreed, adding, "I quite frankly don't want to celebrate something that is a pillar in our community shutting down."