Santa Fe teenagers involved in a Boys & Girls Club summer program, along with other Santa Fe teens, might become members of a permanent, year-round Boys & Girls Club program if organization leaders can secure $225,000.
The Galveston County Daily News reports a tour on Monday for area business and community leaders was a chance for Kevin Hattery, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston, to make a case for the need in Santa Fe for a year-round club.
"After the school shooting in Santa Fe in 2018, we thought about it a lot and asked, is there a need there?" Hattery said. "We talked with Carol Gaylord, director of the Santa Fe Resiliency Center, and she said yes, definitely. We secured a Save the Children grant for a summer pilot program."
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The resiliency center, 13217 FM 1764, opened immediately after the May 18, 2018, Santa Fe High School shooting that killed 10 and left many more injured, both physically and spiritually. Funded by an initial $1.8 million state grant, the center offers counseling services and numerous activities aimed at providing healing and comfort to those affected by school and community violence.
Hattery mentioned one student in the Boys & Girls Club program, a boy on the autism spectrum whose best friend died in the attack at Santa Fe High School.
"This has been a safe place for him to make new friends," Hattery said.
Liberty Wheeler, 16, a rising junior at Santa Fe High School, was a witness to the shooting and learned about the Boys & Girls Club program from her therapist at the resiliency center, she said.
"It's been pretty great," Wheeler said. "I don't normally like organized activities, but this is different."
Wheeler said she had enjoyed the field trips -- she'd never been to a professional baseball game before going to watch the Houston Astros with the club -- but the highlight of the summer was meeting Lexi, a student at Alvin High School who participated in the program.
"I found my new best friend," Wheeler said.
The program began in early July and ends on Friday. It has been offered cost-free.
About 30 teens, ages 13 to 17, have attended all or part of the program activities which included the field trip to the baseball game, a trip to a Houston art museum and other city attractions, as well as daily activities at the resiliency center.
While Hattery showed visitors around, club participants made ice cream sundaes with donated sprinkles, whipped cream and other condiments, and wolfed them down while sitting in small groups at long tables, talking constantly with each other and generally ignoring the grown-ups in their midst unless addressed directly.
"There was a huge cry for this in Santa Fe," said Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston's Area Manager, Dexter Lockett, who has worked in the program alongside Club Director Dominique Sanchez. "These were teenagers with literally nothing to do but sit at home, some of them alone while their parents worked."
Lockett and his peers are trained to supervise and teach youth through a lens of social and emotional learning, a way to access feelings constructively and apply them to daily challenges. In the case of the Santa Fe summer program, the program was designed to respond to community needs around trauma, grief and hope, according to club literature.
The program was also a respite for parents, their anxieties heightened by the school shooting and naturally worried about their kids' well-being a year later, Lockett said.
"The great thing about a program like this is kids can talk about anything peer-to-peer, in a safe place," Lockett said. "They're building new friendships and all kinds of different personalities are welcomed here."
Parents asked what they could do to keep the program going, Hattery said.
The Santa Fe Independent School District has agreed to let a portion of the local junior high school campus -- the gymnasium, cafetorium, a tech lab and two classrooms -- serve as the location of a Santa Fe Boys & Girls Club during after-school hours this year if funding is secured.
The club would be set up to operate in summers as well and hopes to serve 125 junior high and high school students in the first year, growing to 225 by the third year.
"We're running down every lead for funding we possibly can," Hattery told the group of community leaders, including Galveston County Precinct 3 Commissioner Stephen Holmes and Dolph Tillotson, long-time supporter of the Galveston Boys & Girls Club and president of Southern Newspapers Inc., which owns The Daily News.
To reach their joint goals, the City of Santa Fe Resiliency Center and Boys & Girls Club of Greater Houston need to raise $225,000 annually with a three-year commitment. They are seeking funds from local governments, corporations, foundations and individual donors.