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story.lead_photo.caption Jefferson County Boys and Girls Club staff members met recently in preparation to reopen the club’s doors Monday. (Special to the Commercial)

The Jefferson County Boys and Girls Club will be reopening its doors on Monday after closing while coronavirus cases rose.

When the virus first hit the county in March, First United Methodist Church, site of the club as well as the Townsend Park location, shut down operations

Nyeshia Aldridge, CEO of the Jefferson County club, said the church site will remain closed until virus numbers begin to decrease.

"The bishop was concerned for his elderly members," said Aldridge. "Covid is a huge risk so the bishop is not allowing any youth programs at this time and any groups larger than 10 to meet longer than 30 minutes so we're just waiting it out."

Until then the Townsend Park site at 2701 Short Reeker St. will open 1-5 p.m. Monday through Friday serving youngsters ages 5-18. "We will have tutors, mentors and provide programs such as health and lifestyle, leadership and arts," said Aldridge. "Our kids are also provided with meals and snacks."

Aldridge said she and her staff are looking forward to in-person interaction with their student members, which will be downsized to stay in compliance with the CDC and Health Department guidelines.

"Pre-covid between both sites we were averaging 106 kids," she said. "To play it safe we have limited in-person to 30 because the facility is small. Once we are able to serve the kids again at our church site, we will have more."

Up to 30 youngsters will be able to attend in-person on a first-come, first-served basis. Masks will be worn at all times and social distancing will be required when possible. There also will be frequent disinfecting of areas. With a safety committee composed of people from the sheriff's office, police department, Jefferson Regional Medical Center, fire department, and mental health facilities, Aldridge said safety is the organization's first priority.

"Covid put a stop to services in March. We reopened in July with a summer program but then shut down shortly thereafter as covid-19 numbers continued to rise in Jefferson County," said Aldridge.

The summer program consisted of STEM classes, photography, cooking, gardening, fitness, and swimming before closing. Students stayed connected during the closure by participating in virtual learning from how-to videos to storytime adventures.

Aldridge said the group tried to reopen on Sept. 8 but with growing infection numbers and parents not following the club's covid rules and guidelines, the organization made the tough decision to shut their doors and revamp.

Another change to the club will be a new executive board president. Bryan Jackson, who serves as the chief financial officer of Jefferson Regional Medical Center, stepped down as president of the Boys & Girls Club executive board after nearly four years.

Vonysha Goodwin, the Jefferson County treasurer, was voted in to take his place.

As a child, Goodwin attended the Boys & Girls Club and was very eager to give back.

"Vonysha has been on our board for about three years and stepped up as a treasurer," said Aldridge, who said that under Jackson's leadership the club made great strides. "Vonysha is good about taking the lead and stepping up, and she was voted as our board president."

With the new year and a new start, Aldrige said the group has big plans from in-person activities to virtual platforms. They also plan to resume all fundraising activities in 2021 that were canceled last year due to covid-19.

"We are planning and preparing to start back on Jan. 11," she said.

To become a volunteer, mentor, or for member information call (870) 850-7500.

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