With an old couch and television in the room, only a few teens congregated in the teen center upstairs at the Boys & Girls Club of Seymour.
A recent donation by Aaron’s, a rent-to-own store in Seymour, however, has resulted in more sixth- through 12-graders visiting the club.
The room now has new furniture and electronics, including two couches, two loveseats, two televisions, two entertainment centers, a PS4 game system, a table and chairs set and a refrigerator. Downstairs, the club has a new washer and dryer and stove.
In all, the donation totaled around $9,000.
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Now, it’s a place where teens want to gather.
“Before, there actually wasn’t that many things. They only had an Xbox 360 and only one TV, and it was very old, so every once in a while, we would watch a movie,” said Anthony Juarez, a club member and sixth-grader at St. Ambrose Catholic School.
“But now that they have Netflix, we can watch YouTube, movies and Pandora, and also now, they have a PS4, which can also play Blu-ray movies and its video games also are in Blu-ray,” he said. “It’s a better environment for kids to feel like they are home.”
Fellow club member Levi Stigdon, a student at the Seymour Middle School Sixth Grade Center, said it’s a nice place to kick off his shoes and do homework or fun activities with other teens.
Another Sixth Grade Center student, Ava Martin, said she likes the area because it offers a quiet place to do her homework.
The teens appreciate the donation by Aaron’s.
“It means that they care about children’s education and how they feel,” Juarez said.
It all came about after Ryon Wheeler, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Seymour, reached out to Paul Hoffman, general manager of the Aaron’s store in Seymour. Hoffman then reached out to Paul Huffman from the company’s national office in Nashville, Tennessee.
Aaron’s is a national partner of Boys & Girls Club of America.
The new furniture, electronics and appliances were delivered Sept. 16, just in time for the first teen night two days later. That’s when the teens got their first glimpse at the new items and also enjoyed food donated by Taco Bell.
“The main focus of this and the goal with our teens is to give them a place to call their own, and we will start to see more coming,” Wheeler said. “As a teenager, it’s hard to find someplace safe where you can stay out of trouble. We’re hoping to give that to them.”
Hoffman said the company was happy to make the donation to the local club.
“We love helping out the community and helping out those boys and girls,” he said.
He attended teen night and said it was an opportunity to meet them and hear their thoughts on the new offerings.
“It was exciting to know that it’s going to help their membership, too,” Hoffman said.
Brooke Stein, program director at the Boys & Girls Club of Seymour, said a couple of changes have been made to increase teen membership.
For one, sixth- through 12th-graders have free membership.
“In the past, we have charged them, but we really didn’t have anything to offer for the teens,” Stein said. “We felt like if we want to up our numbers, if we want to get them in our doors, then these teens aren’t going to pay $100. Some of them don’t have it. Some of their parents don’t have it. Why spend $100 to come here and nothing be here?
“We’re just getting them in our door, getting them here and encouraging them to encourage their friends at school to come by and see what we’re about, see what we have,” she said.
Also, Marci Black was hired a month ago as the teen coordinator to oversee programming and activities for the teens.
Black spends her weekdays at Seymour-Redding Elementary School as an instructional assistant and then comes to the Boys & Girls Club until 6 p.m.
On teen nights once a month, she will be there until 8 p.m. to supervise teens during the time the club is only open to them.
Black said she will get the teens’ input to help her develop a different theme for each teen night.
“I pretty much leave it up to them what they are interested in,” Black said.
The club also will partner with a local business to offer food for the teens.
“It’s just getting them to know who we are and what we do here with the kids. That’s what’s nice,” Black said.
An average of 15 teens are at the club each weekday, and Black wants to see that continue to grow.
She has established a point system where teens are rewarded for helping with certain tasks, participating in activities and bringing friends to check out the club.
“My goal is I want to build their confidence,” Black said. “I want them to know that we are here for them, but also if they don’t have that person at home to kind of direct them in the right direction, we want to be able to give that opportunity.”
What: Teen night
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Monday
Where: Boys & Girls Club of Seymour, 950 N. O’Brien St., Seymour
Who: Club members in sixth through 12th grades
Cost: Free (club memberships also are free for teens)