VALDOSTA -- Every day after school, S. L. Mason Elementary School's Dashon Day boards a bus destined for the Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta's Toombs Street facility.

And he wouldn't have it any other way.

"It's fun," the eight-year-old said. "I really like all the activities."

Upon his arrival, Day, a second grader, checks in with his group leader. Then it's time for homework.

"There's always someone around to help me with my homework," he said. "I like having it done before going home. I like knowing that it's done right."

After his homework is completed, Day participates in a number of activities. His favorites are playing pool, doing arts and crafts, and showing off his skills on the basketball court.

If he did not participate in an after-school program, he said he'd probably just sit around and watch television.

Valdosta High School ninth-grader Brittany Palmore agrees.

"If I did not come here after school, I would be lonely and bored every afternoon," the 15-year-old said.

Palmore is president of the Boys and Girls Club's newest program, TEENSupreme Keystone, an outreach initiative designed for teens between the ages of 13 and 18. The program is funded by two $5,000 grants from the The Taco Bell Foundation and the local Taco Bell operator Tacala, Inc., of Birmingham, Ala.

Participating teens will soon have their very own, separate, clearly-designated section of the club to discuss issues, interact with each other, and design community service projects. Construction is scheduled for completion in the coming weeks.

"The teen program encourages us to do our best and be our best," Palmore said. "It's a success program. It keeps us off the street. There's nothing for us in the streets except a dead end."

At the Boys and Girls Club, kids and teens of all ages have someone to talk to, she added.

"We can talk to the people here about anything," Palmore continued. "These people are helping us and guiding us onto the right path. We are like one big family out here."

Melba Barber, director of the Toombs Street facility, said the Boys and Girls Club's after-school program offers something for everyone. The program's daily lineup features tutoring services and homework assistance. Beyond that, there's the programs core activity programs -- character and leadership, health and life skills, education and career, arts, and sports and fitness.

Club members have access to a technology room boasting 10 IBM computers with Internet access. There are dance classes, photography classes, cooking classes, and even a pen pal club where members can correspond with other club members across the country.

Before the kids leave for home, they are fed a hot meal in the Kids Cafe, a program of America's Second Harvest of South Georgia.

Robert Soper, chief executive officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta, said after-school programs like that at the Toombs Street facility are extremely important.

"We know from numerous studies and statistics that the rate of juvenile-related crime actually doubles during the hours after school," he said. "Studies show that from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., children are more likely to be involved in substance abuse, sexual activities, and crime."

Soper said every child in America should participate in a safe, supervised, structured program after school each day.

"Every child deserves a safe, supervised place, with structured programming and dedicated caregivers," he added. "In the Valdosta area, the Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta is making a real difference."

More than 300 Valdosta kids and teens are members of the Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta, participating in programs and activities at one of two facilities, including the one on Toombs Street.

The Toombs Street facility is open until 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 6 p.m. on Friday. After-school program activities are offered free of charge as long as all participants pay their annual $10 club membership fee.

For more information about the Toombs Street facility, please call 242-2058. For more information about other Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta programs, please call 242-0676.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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