DENHAM SPRINGS — An effort is underway to bring after-school and summer programming to kids here, something school principals say is badly needed.
Local officials, educators and business people are in talks with the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Baton Rouge to expand the organization to Denham Springs.
Boys & Girls Clubs typically offer tutoring, sports, creative activities and free meals for students ages 6 to 18. Their aim is to help young people achieve better outcomes in life, including by graduating high school on time.
"I think it would be great for our students to have a place to go after school hours. Because many of the times, they're going home to empty houses," said Gail DeLee, principal of Denham Springs Elementary School.
The idea for a Boys & Girls Club in Denham Springs emerged out of the community meetings held after the August 2016 flood, which inundated this city of 10,000.
“As we recover from this devastating event that we had almost two years ago now, we just have to make sure the kids know that Denham is safe, they have good schools to go to and any needs they have, we're here for them to help in any way that we can," said Mayor Gerard Landry.
A loose group of stakeholders from Denham Springs met Thursday morning with the head of the Baton Rouge organization and a representative from the national group.
They decided to call the nascent program the Boys & Girls Clubs of Livingston Parish and form a steering committee.
The name gives the group the ability to expand from Denham Springs to the rest of the parish and to raise funds from some of the larger, industrial businesses along Interstate 12, said Margot May, publisher of The Livingston Business Journal.
Pat Van Burkleo, president of the Greater Baton Rouge organization, said the organization would be the first offshoot of the Baton Rouge-based nonprofit. It would share overhead costs and a board of directors with the main organization, while having its own programs and funds, he said.
The main task before the steering committee will be to develop a business plan.
The biggest question that plan will have to answer is where to base the program. Boys & Girls Clubs can be located in schools, standalone buildings or leased spaces, such as churches, Van Burkleo said.
The Baton Rouge organization is school-based, meaning the activities happen in the classrooms after school lets out and over the summer. The perk of a program like this is more kids will stay involved, because they can go directly from class, but it also means fewer kids have access, Van Burkleo said.
Arthur Perkins, a retired school principal and long-time former city council member, suggested using the L.M. Lockhart Center, a former school managed by Parks & Recreation of Denham Springs. It is used for special events, and Perkins said he runs a summer program there.
Another option the group agreed to explore is using is the Juban Parc schools.
The steering committee will also have to figure out how to manage food, transportation and staffing.
Julie Dugas, principal of Freshwater Elementary School, said the logistics of making the program happen will be tough, but she thinks it is possible and needed.
"To have something, to have a program during the summer to keep them involved and to keep them participating. They absolutely need that," Dugas said.
Van Burkleo said a Boys & Girls Club would be able to work with existing service organizations, including Kiwanis and Rotary.
"We usually find when a community this size has a Boys and Girls Club, it really is a catalyst for lots of volunteers and lots of activity going on," Van Burkleo said.
The next planning meeting is scheduled for April 12 at 8 a.m. at Denham Springs City Hall.
Follow Caroline Grueskin on Twitter, @cgrueskin.