Boys & Girls Club of Brown County going strong after COVID slowdown

Steve Nash
Brownwood Bulletin
Romeo Rodriguez (foreground), 7, Gideon Coers (center), 8 and Andrew Willis, 7, get in some computer time at the Boys & Girls Club of Brown County.
Katherine Palmer has been CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Brown County for three years.

In April 2020, Katherine Palmer's one-year anniversary of working as CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Brown County passed with little notice. 

“I celebrated my one-year anniversary at my desk, by myself, in an empty building,” Palmer recalled in an earlier interview. “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.”

The club had closed down because of COVID, and it would remain closed until the summer of 2020, when it reopened to diminished numbers and COVID protocols.

What a difference two years can make.

The numbers are rising, and Palmer — who marked her third anniversary with the club on April 1 — was excited in a recent interview to showcase some of the club's new programs and its highly capable staff.

The club — which provides after-school and summer activities for children and teens ages 6 through 18 — currently has about 90 enrolled. "Last month we had 85 kids total attend the club," Palmer said. "Our average daily attendance was about 67, 68, but it’s been steadily growing this year.

Changuz Doss (left) and Kevin Astorga, both 8, have some fun at a pool table. The mural on the wall behind them was painted by Amanda Coers.

The club is located at 1701 Ave L in Brownwood.

"We opened up summer registration April 1, and in a huge surprise, it’s looking like we might end up with a wait list, which was incredibly unexpected. My first summer here we started with 19 or 20 kids and were thrilled to hit 35 by the end of the summer. Right now, between new registrations and our current kids that have said they’ll be here this summer, we’ve got about 112, 115 registered. Our cap will be 150 and honestly in my wildest dreams I did not think we’d get anywhere close to 150 this summer.”

Recalling back to February 2020, Palmer said the club at that time had about 115 kids a day. “Then COVID hit, and just completely decimated our ability to serve that many kids," Palmer said. "I hadn’t even been here a whole year when COVID hit. We were shut down before my first anniversary. So right at the point where I felt like I was starting to get a handle on this job and the club, everything changed and we had to adjust every single aspect of what we were doing.

"We were capped at 60 under COVID restrictions. Last summer we went back to no restrictions and we had about 60, 70 kids last summer. Through the fall we did a lot of staff rebuilding, had a lot of changes going on at the club. So the growing numbers this spring has been a real big blessing. We really didn’t do much recruitment in the fall. We started really in January letting folks know we’re here and what we’re doing.”

New programs include the club's ability to provide afternoon snacks — USDA approved, Palmer noted, with milk or juice — thanks to a state grant. Plans are to install a kitchen in one of the classrooms and begin offering cooking classes.

Palmer took a visitor through the club's classrooms where a variety of activities are offered. A class called Passport to Manhood is offered to older elementary-aged boys, and girls are offered a class called Smart Girls.

"I think we’ve got a lot of real quality staff this summer," Palmer said. "I’m very excited about the leadership team that we have, even though they haven’t been here very long. They’re passionate and very good at what they do and have a lot of really great ideas that they are working on as well.”

Palmer said she enjoys having a job that is "different every day. Being that we’re still a fairly small organization, I still get to spend some time fairly regularly with kids. Bigger clubs, the CEOs don’t really get that.  They’re in an office all day, doing only administrative work.”