Students filtered into J.T. Anderson Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta in Marietta on a Monday afternoon. It had been three days since the kids — a mixture of young students age 6 to 18 — had been on the club’s campus.
A lot had changed in that time.
A group of more than 100 volunteers from Accenture participated in several beautification projects through United Way of Greater Atlanta.
The volunteers were divided and sent to a couple of different stations. Some people rebuilt and planted flower beds, others helped re-organize a library space and a few repainted picnic tables that were covered underneath a blue awning adjacent the Club’s basketball court and baseball field.
Prior to the event, the tables were plain, dusty and unpainted, said Executive Director N’keschia Brundidge-Clark.
“The kids have not seen this yet,” Brundidge-Clark said Monday around 3 p.m. “It looks so much better now. It gives them character and attitude. It helps make the club look colorful and vibrant just like our kids.”
Those vibrant kids are dropped off at the center from area schools and then they head through the front door past Brundidge-Clark’s office and the front desk, along wood-grained vinyl floor pathways and past large cubby-hole storage boxes that are pushed against walls painted the iconic Boys and Girls Club blue.
The middle-school aged students are currently testing for reading benchmarks, Brundidge-Clark says, so they head to a classroom to begin testing. Other kids at the Boys and Girls Club have regularly schedule homework and study time, and they are always working on different projects for upcoming holidays and celebrations, she says.
“We have leadership clubs, and we’re going to be doing a Mother’s Day program with a performance — they have been rehearsing an African dance,” she says.
During the summer, the kids grow and pick plants from the vegetable beds out back — right now they have peppers, chives, kale and Roma tomatoes growing. This Boys and Girls Club will actually compete later this summer in a “Salsa Salsa” recipe competition with other local clubs.
The young chefs get their salsa featured on a menu at Willy’s Mexicana Grill, Brundidge-Clark says.
Kids make their way inside to the gym, some stick around to play video games or work on homework and then a few more exit the building to the outdoor basketball court.
That’s when Jacinda Johnson first sees the newly renovated picnic space with her friends.
“This is so beautiful,” Johnson says, bouncing around from table to table admiring the work. She runs her hand across each of the tabletops.
Each of them is painted differently. Some are brightly colored and covered with handprints dipped along each plank of wood. Some of the tables are painted solid, alternating with different shades, another table was painted to be a watermelon and then a blue table in the center looks like something out of a Jackson Pollock exhibit.
Johnson and a classmate, Sharea Jones, then head inside to see the reading nook that volunteers had prepared.
Jones says the previous week the books had been disorganized, strewn about the room and tossed into areas without much rhyme or reason.
“It was a mess,” she says. “But now people can come in here and read, and if they get mad and need to chill out for a second, they can sit here and read a book.”
The kids have a place to study, to sit and learn comfortably away from clutter and other classmates. They have a place to practice and improve reading skills — national studies show that children who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school with a diploma.
United Way of Greater Atlanta saw in 2017 that kids growing up in different area codes were met with different resources. United Way used a set of 14 child, family and community measures to determine a child well-being average for each zip code.
The zip codes were broken down and color coded, with red indicating low or very child well-being and green on the opposite side of the spectrum. This new data drove the Child Well-Being Movement at United Way— you can see the map at unitedwayatlanta.org. While Cobb County as a whole shows signs of strong child well-being, there’s a glaring red dot in the middle of the county. That’s in the 30060 zip code where the J.T. Anderson Boys and Girls Club resides.
So, the work done by Accenture over the weekend shows a focus on improving the lives of children in an area in need.
This was work that impressed Brundidge-Clark. She was impressed by what the Accenture volunteers had done in such a short amount of time. The club got some serious upgrades and changes she was proud to see.
It’s a space that more than 300 kids will be able to enjoy over the course of a year — even more than that in the summer. It’s a space where kids can come and be themselves, surrounded by other children, their community and their family.
“They can come here and chill out, relax and just be a kid or teenager,” Brundidge-Clark said. “They grow up here. They are like our family.”
To learn more about volunteering through United Way of Greater Atlanta, visit www.unitedwayatlanta.org/volunteer.