Resolutions for 2021: Boys and Girls Club director helps children persevere through pandemic

Ben Mace
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times

Sheka Bartley, the director of the Greater Smyrna Clayton Boys and Girls Club, said the most difficult part of the pandemic at the club is far less interaction between the staff and the children, but also between the younger students and the older students who served as positive role models.

Sheka Bartley

She discussed her top four New Year’s resolutions for the club:

1. Because of COVID restrictions, we just can’t have as meaningful relationships as in past years because of all the separation. One of the things I’d really like to see, once the pandemic is over, is for us being able to get back to that social interaction that is so important, especially peer to peer. We’re missing a lot of important aspects of learning. The main thing I want to see in 2021 is that every child knows the staff, the staff knows every child, and the older children can start serving as role models to the younger children again which we can’t do right now because we have to separate the children according to age groups. It’s almost like we’re in a lockdown. It’s hard for children. They want to be close to each other. It’s cool doing air high fives, but it’s nothing like being able to interact with their peers. We had to section off the gym, and they can still play in their sections, but they can’t play games with each other. They can practice shooting with a basketball, but they can’t play a basketball game. My teens, they come and want to play basketball, but they can’t play regular game. We used to be able to have 50 to 60 kids after school and now can only have 30. That’s been a challenge. It’s already hard to get teens to come here, but when you have to turn them away, that’s tough. That’s a critical age. We don’t want them getting in trouble, but we’re having to turn them away.

2. I’d like to be able to take the children on field trips again. There’s a world outside of Smyrna, and so many things we could see and do that could spark the children’s interest. I’d like to get back into the community. There are great things out there and lots for the children to learn, but right now we’ve been confined by our environment here at the club. We’re doing the best that we can with the virtual learning online, but it’s very difficult for our children. Usually, everything centers around social interaction – meeting people from different walks of life. It’s great the children are technically sound, but the learning is not the same. We used to have cooking competitions among all ages and the younger children could learn from the older children, but now we have to stay in our age groups. We have a newsletter club, and before the kids were able to go around, take photos for different stories, like our fashion section. They could interview club members and staff members. With all the restrictions, it really makes it challenging to do that now.

3. My wishes are not so much material, but for the social and emotional needs of our children; however, there are several building improvements that would be nice to have done. A lot of the windows need to be replaced. We have a little kitchen area and some small appliances, but kids really do like cooking and it would be wonderful to have a real kitchen. We have a cooking competition called “Cheffin’ It Up” and if we had a larger kitchen, we could expand on that. There’s also some painting that would improve the way the club looks.

4. One thing I missed this year is normally we get all the kids gifts that are important to them, something they will treasure, because we’ve gotten to know the kids and interacted with them. This year, our staff just didn’t get to know the children as well and so getting gifts for everyone was a challenge. Usually I know what they like, but this year that wasn’t always the case. I hope in 2021 we can get back to giving gifts that I know are going to mean a lot to each child. It took me a little longer to pick out gifts this year, but WBOC has been really good with funding that, and we’re thankful.

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