Boys & Girls Club of Brown County reopens for summer

Staff Writer
Brownwood Bulletin
From left, Boys & Girls Club art director Christian Lewis, club CEO Katherine Palmer and Brownwood artist Amanda Coers are pictured in front of a commemorative mural Coers painted in the clubhouse.

Standing outside the Boys & Girls Club of Brown County Friday afternoon, Katherine Palmer laughed when she recalled marking the one-year anniversary of her job.

Palmer began working as the Boys & Girls Club of Brown County on April 1, 2019. This past April 1, with the club closed due to COVID, Palmer spent the day working alone.

“I celebrated my one-year anniversary at my desk, by myself, in an empty building,” Palmer said. “Nobody else was here. We had a board meeting digitally that day. We all met on Zoom. There was nobody else in the building that day.”

A little more than two months have passed since then, and the club reopened for summer activities this past Monday.

While the club is operating differently than it would normally because of COVID restrictions, Palmer has not lost her enthusiasm for her job and the families the club serves. The staff has brought a summer camp atmosphere that includes teams, colors and team chants.

Summertime attendance is limited to 40 children based on state child care center COVID guidelines, Palmer said. Visitors aren’t allowed inside, and activity rooms have been reconfigured so that tables and chairs are six feet apart.

“It’s a little difficult because one of the most fun games that they play in the gym is tag, and with tag, you literally have to touch somebody, which is not allowed,” Palmer said. “So they’ve done shadow tag and pool noodle tag — anything that keeps the kids six feet apart. The staff has been creative with what they can do in all of their areas to keep the kids apart.”

Palmer was proud to note the club is celebrating 25 years in the community. Local artist Amanda Cores recently completed a commemorative mural in the club’s game room. “The new mural encapsulates the sense of fun and belonging that is a key element to a successful club experience,” Palmer said.

Palmer recalled the day in early March when the club closed due to COVID.

“March 9 was our last day — that Friday of spring break, we had early release,” Palmer said. “And then all the coronavirus news broke, and schools across the state started announcing closures.

“We were just kind of going a week at a time following the school (announcements). “It was week, and I think they did one more week, and then they did the week of April and then they announced closures till the end of the school year.”

Some of the staff was comprised of Howard Payne University work-study students, and most of those students did not returned to Brownwood after spring break since schools and universities remained closed.

“We did eight hours of tutoring every day, available on Zoom to our club members, so they could call in with their schoolwork,” Palmer said. “We actually picked up packets from all the schools so that the staff could help them through their schoolwork.

“We had staff coming in and filming video activities, so we had arts and crafts. We had some boredom buster games that you could play at home that you didn’t really need special equipment for — things like broom hockey. We had riddles that went out every day. We did something that we called get your body moving and it was an up and exercise kind of activity.”

As COVID restrictions increased, “our videos went from being filmed in our club to being filmed in each of our houses,” Palmer said. “My videos were filmed in my back yard.”

As the state began reopening and restrictions were lifted, Palmer and the staff returned to the club, even though children weren’t yet allowed back.

“We did a lot of cleaning, maintenance, reorganizing,” Palmer said.

Referring to the differences forced by COVID, Palmer noted that normally, would have multiple rooms to choose from, divided by age, for activities.

“This year, have to keep kids in group of 10 and they stay with their group all day,” Palmer said. “So we have designed a home room system and we have three groups. We expect to have four groups next week.

“All the kids are assigned a primary staff member and a homeroom, and that’s where they do the majority of their activities.”

Noting the summer camp atmosphere, Palmer said, “At summer camp there’s cabin competitions and spirit, and it’s a whole culture of friendly competition.”

The children are divided into three teams — Blackout, Justice League and Avengers, Palmer said.

The Blackout team won the first week’s spirit competition, earning themselves an ice cream party.

Boys & Girls Club members and a staff member are pictured outside the club.