Monday, August 6, 2007

Soak up the sun: After-school program to begin soon

Kevion Nolan, left, and Sam Black have a sprinkler fight during the last Club U event of the summer. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star

HOBSON CITY — Kids clustered around two small plastic swimming pools and sprinted circles around their teacher, pelting her with water-soaked sponges after running out of balloons.

Friday was a celebration and an ending of sorts for children who spent their summer at Club U in the old C.E. Hanna Elementary School in Hobson City.

The club is an after-school and summertime program sponsored by Project U-Turn International, a local nonprofit organization. September will be the organization’s one-year anniversary of operations.

The summer portion of the program ended, but soon the after-school session will begin again.

Earlier in the week, 5-year-old Tanisha Mason sat with Club U’s Hobson City Director Rhonda Sturkie learning to read a story.

Tanisha smiled widely and said she was learning to read before she starts school in the fall.

“She was so excited when she turned 5, because then she could come to the club,” Sturkie said.

In the other room, children and teenagers from 5 to 15 years old played cards, tossed a football, practiced cheers. One even laid down saying softly that she just wanted to take a nap.

That was free play at the club. The rest of the day children play board games, read, and sometimes go to the movies. The club tries to keep them in some air-conditioning when it’s hot out, Sturkie said.

The days have been full at Club U. Sturkie said during the summer the group took regular trips to the Anniston city swimming pool, Atlanta Braves games, water parks in Birmingham and Atlanta, and Six Flags over Georgia.

Candace Gaston runs a relay race with a water balloon on her shoulder Friday morning. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star

Between all the trips, students with grade trouble got some tutoring from Oxford teacher Amanda Gaskins.

During the year, the Club had boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, which competed in games and tournaments.

“Our boys won all but one of their games,” said Dennis Forbus, founder of Project U-Turn.

He said he was especially proud of the cheerleading squad of 8- to 14-year-olds that took sixth place out of 23 teams in a national competition in March in Atlanta.

It’s nearly the one-year anniversary for the program. The grand opening in Hobson City was in September last year. Forbus opened a new location Thursday night in Munford, at the old high school on Mitchell Street.

Sturkie will work as director in Hobson City while Forbus oversees the new location.

Forbus said the first year has been hard going.

“Since we’re new, we don’t get a lot of funding yet, but I’m working on it,” he said.

Between arranging more than 10,000 bus rides over the year, keeping the facility clean, and organizing CPR and first-aid classes at night for adult participants, Forbus has been talking with Calhoun County and state representatives and filling out lots of applications for funding.

Costs have been low, as little as $25 a month per child during the year. But with the cost of gasoline and insurance, Forbus said he’ll have to raise the price to about $40 per month during the school year.

The summer cost a $25 enrollment fee and $35 a week. Kids came as early as 7 a.m. and most left around 4 p.m., some as late as 6 p.m. due to parents’ work schedules.

He did not have figures for next summer’s program.

Forbus said he’d like to offer more services, but he’s got to have more support.

Hobson City workers helped out tremendously by cleaning and clearing out the courtyard behind the school for Friday’s barbecue, Sturkie said. And parents pitched in getting supplies together for the event. One parent who works at Tyson Foods was able to donate chicken.

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