Afterschool clubs reopen for Boys & Girls

Three Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sequoias locations have welcomed back student members; Exeter location designated as donation site for fire relief efforts 

EXETER – Many businesses closed their doors back in March due to the ongoing pandemic, and some have had to play a long waiting game before reopening. After several months of being closed, three different Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sequoias (BGCS) locations have reopened their doors to members for afterschool programming.

BGCS has 15 different locations throughout Tulare County, and they were all closed on March 17. On Aug. 13 they launched their virtual program throughout all of their clubs which runs from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Zoom. In-person programming was first reopened on Aug. 5 at the Visalia Gindick location. Exeter and Strathmore were the only two other locations to reopen which happened on Sept. 8. The afterschool programming runs from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The clubs have adopted intensive COVID-19 club safety procedures. Each location has a certain club member to staff ratio to maintain which has limited the number of members allowed on site. Only a maximum of 48 members are allowed at the Visalia location, 36 spots are available at Exeter and 12 at Strathmore. Spots are filled on a first come, first served basis and are open to all BGCS members throughout the county.  If a student is being dropped off after 3 p.m., parents must call and confirm openings are available for that day.

Every morning, each staff member is required to self-screen for symptoms of COVID-19. They must have their temperature taken while also answering a series of health questions. In the past, students could check themselves into the club but now they must be dropped off and picked up by a parent or guardian. However only students are allowed in the club. Once they arrive with a parent or guardian, the staff will conduct a screening for every person present in the car. If anyone in the car has a temperature of 99.5 degrees or higher, the member will not be permitted into the club. Students are not allowed to bring in any outside items such as backpacks or toys. Masks are required for every person on site and they must also wash their hands at the top of every hour. The entire club is sanitized at the end of every day. Zoom programming is still available for families who do not wish to bring their students.

According to Exeter site director Laurena Gilbert, their staff has stayed in consistent communication with member families over the last few months. They did home visits to drop off different supplies such as bread, peaches, tomatoes and other fruit from the club garden. They’d also make weekly phone calls and send out birthday cards to members, just to stay in touch. After seeing how much they were appreciated for making a difference in the lives of member families, it was imperative that they worked to bring students back in person.

“We had kids calling saying they missed us and asking when we were going to reopen, so we were striving to bring that back. We truly feel that this is a family,” Gilbert said.

The Exeter club also spent the summer months remodeling the site. They painted and added some new areas so it could seem like a fresh start when members returned. This location has also been designated as a donation site for Red Cross fire relief efforts. Families who have been affected by the various wildfires affecting the Central Valley, can stop by to pick up boxes filled with food, hygiene products, gas cards and pet food. The club has been able to serve about five to six families a day.

“We sanitize donations when they come in, then the older students help to organize and build boxes for the families in need. We decided to do it as a community service and we’ve had a great response despite not advertising at all,” Gilbert said.

In order to help fund the organization, BGCS is continuing fundraisers for each of its three open sites. The Exeter Club will hold its Fruit of the Harvest online auction from Oct. 12 to 16. The auction will begin at 12 p.m. on Oct 12 and end at 5 p.m. on Oct. 16. To participate in the auction simply text the keyword “HARVEST” to 71760. A text message will be sent with the link to the online portal where participants can browse through all of the auction items. For more information, visit bgcsequoias.org/Exeter.

The Visalia club will be holding its Social Swirl fundraiser and golf classic in November. The golf tournament will be held on Nov. 6 at the Visalia Country Club and an online auction will be held Nov. 4 to 7 instead of the annual Gala. To register as a player or sponsor for the golf tournament, visit bgcsequoias.org/socialswirl. For more information on the auction, follow BGCS on Facebook and Instagram.

The Strathmore Club has replaced its annual Fall Ball by allowing businesses to sponsor annual memberships for local children. Sponsorships range from $250 to sponsor one youth for six months to $2,500 to sponsor five youth for a year. For more information, visit bgcsequoias.org/fallball.

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