Whittier Elementary third-grader Michael Provenzano says he likes coming to the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club after school each day.
“I do my homework on the computer, and then I do my creativity,” he said as he created a line drawing on the club’s computer. “The Boys and Girls Club is fun.”
However, after next week, Michael and other kids will have to find some other place to play and do homework after school. The program, located at 700 Independence Ave., will be discontinued March 28 because of low attendance.
The club’s teen program at 322 Callahan St. will continue.
“We only had 20 people enrolled in the after-school program and only 15 coming,” said Capt. George Hackbarth, commanding officer for the Muskogee Salvation Army. “We need to have at least 30 kids to break even. There are not enough kids to cover expenses.”
He said the discontinuation could be temporary.
“The club is not closing,” he said. “Rather it is seeking more effective methods of serving more children and their families in the community.”
Hackbarth said he is working with Muskogee School Superintendent Mike Garde about reinstating the program at district schools in the 2009 school year. He said the Salvation Army has been meeting with Muskogee Public Schools officials since last spring.
Garde or other school officials could not be reached for comment because it is the district’s spring break.
Hackbarth said the joint program could serve four times as many children.
In 2005, the Boys and Girls Club after-school program drew as many as 50 kids.
Last fall, program director Juliette Exupery said the after-school program lost some kids at the start of the school year when Muskogee Public Schools experienced a shortage of bus drivers and was not able to take kids from elementary schools to the club. She said many children had already stopped coming to the program when the district overcame the shortage.
“I’m just real sad” about the program’s discontinuation, Exupery said Wednesday. “It takes the whole community to make this work.”
Michael said he doesn’t know where he will go without the program.
“My mom is kind of sad and mad that it’s closing,” he said.
Blake Roberts, a Pershing Elementary student, said he also likes coming to the program. He said he will start going to an after-school program at his school.
While the Boys and Girls Club’s after-school program is being put on hold, its teen program is thriving, Hackbarth said.
“The city of Muskogee Parks and Recreation Department has partnered with the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club to offer teenagers in Muskogee a safe place to hang out,” he said. “Ken Henshaw took over the program in December of 2007 and has turned the program around. Our daily average went from 20 teens a day to 60.”
Henshaw said 100 teens come to the center for Friday night “parties” until 9 p.m.
The Club, located in what used to be an armory and the Muskogee Recreation Center, has a “cafe” with a snack bar, a stage for live performances, a full-sized gym and a game room.
“We are in the process of setting up a computer lab with about 18 computers,” Hackbarth said. “Currently we have a journalism class and a job skills class.”
Hackbarth said the center could soon open a weight room and rooms for art and music programs.
“There is nothing else like ‘The Club’ in Muskogee for teenagers,” he said. “We are in the process of working with the city to develop a summer program for teens, and the center will be opened from noon to 8 p.m. during summer.”