Danville Area Boys and Girls Club

Carleah Witcher (left) is a member at the Chatham branch of the Danville Area Boys and Girls Club. Darrius Johnson has been a youth development specialist with the club for just shy of one year.

There’s a gap between the time school ends and when parents get home.

It’s this time period, according to statistics, when juveniles are more likely to be involved in violent crime.

One organization offers a solution.

Serving about 300 children and teens, the Danville branch of the Boys and Girls Club provides children with a safe, fun place to go in hours where adults are typically still at work.

“We provide afterschool and summer programming for our kids in the areas of academic success, building character and leadership skills in our kids, promoting healthy lifestyles and healthy choices and smart choices and making sure that our kids are prepared to become the best citizens that they can be,” said Faith Stamps, the Danville Area Boys and Girls Club chief executive officer.

The group’s operating hours occur at times when young people statistically are more likely to get in trouble.

Nationally, youth crimes tend to spike between 3 and 6 p.m., from the time most leave school and parents or guardians arrive home from work. Violent crimes — including murder, violent sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault and simple assault — are most likely to be committed by individuals younger than 18 during the hour after school lets out, between 3 and 4 p.m., according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

The local clubs aim to provide a positive environment that children and teens not only enjoy, but also encourages them to make productive choices.

“Most youth when they go home, probably their parents aren’t off work yet. We provide that stable place for kids to come after school that’s safe for them to attend,” Stamps said. “One of our main goals in this mission is to provide a safe place for kids to come after school.”

The organization has three locations in the area — two in Danville and one in Pittsylvania County.

At the Boys and Girls Club, children not only have a place to stay, but they also have an area to learn and grow with individuals in a similar age range.

In a typical afternoon, children come in and hang out with their friends, but they focus on making sure the children are engaged in activities, Stamps explained.

Most often they’ll come in and participate in our power hour, which is our homework time,” she said.

Later, they often enjoy a physical activity.

“It might be football, it might be time in the gym,” Stamps said. “We rotate through various activities, so it could be an activity that’s focused on smart decisions.”

Academics and socialization aren’t the only aspects of an evening at the club.

“We really work and focus on the whole child,” Stamps said. “In the areas of impact that we focus on, we make sure and to try to instill skills and talents in our youth that focus on being successful academically, providing opportunities to explore the possible.”

Funded by private and business donations, grants, special fundraising events and membership costs, the club uses the resources to take members on field trips, out-of-town excursions and on tours of college campuses.

Darrius Johnson, a youth development specialist at the Chatham branch of the club, recently accompanied the group on a trip to Asheville, North Carolina. While the members got to see some of the regional sites, a trip to the Biltmore Estate wasn’t the reason for the trip, as it is for many western-North Carolina visitors.

Instead they went to a place called 12 Baskets Cafe and helped to feed the homeless

“We spent a whole entire day there,” Johnson said.

Carleah Witcher, a member of the Boys and Girls Club, enjoyed volunteering at the Asheville experience.

“I liked being able to help the people and give them what I already have,” Witcher said.

Witcher also enjoys the community-based activities provided by the club, such as having a place to meet with her friends, play basketball and work on the computer.

Beyond promoting academics, practicing good sportsmanship and exploring various cultural and socio-economic differences, the club also focuses on interpersonal aspects.

“We also work with our kids on building good character, you know, building leadership skills, really talking and focusing with our youth on soft skills,” Stamps said. “That’s another area that we focus on, making healthy and smart choices. We really make sure our kids understand not only the aspect of physical activity, but also making healthy choices about what they’re putting into their bodies. And also making smart choices when they’re faced with challenges in life.”

Working with the organization for 11 months, Johnson spoke fondly of the culture of the local youth group.

“In a society where everyone tells you that you have to be a certain way, the Boys and Girls Club is a safe space and a safe place for diversity,” Johnson said. “Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, whoever you are, the Boys and Girls Club allows children to feel and often to embrace that they are a gift to society.” ◆

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