Due to closed community center, Rubonia children bused to Palmetto Boys & Girls Club for summer program

RUBONIA -- If it wasn't for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County, 13-year-old Ashlyn Reed would be bored at home all summer.

On Monday, Ashlyn, along with her cousins and other Rubonia children, were bused from the closed Rubonia Community Center to the Palmetto Boys & Girls Club for the first day of a nine-week free summer program.

"I am glad to have this opportunity to come here because most people don't," Ashlyn said at the Palmetto club.

With the Rubonia Community Center closed, the nonprofit is offering the nine-week free summer program for Rubonia children between the ages of 5 and 17. Manatee County Commission approved an agreement

with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County totaling $30,601 for the program. The children will be transported daily to and from the Palmetto club, 1600 10th St. W.

About 40 Rubonia children have registered for the program, which runs through Aug. 14.

The agreement came after the Bradenton Herald reported on Rubonia residents' frustration with the continued closure of the community center.

"It keeps them off the street in Rubonia and Manatee County," Mary Brown, Rubonia Community Association chair, said Monday morning. "You are going to do summer fun, but you are also going to focus on your goals for the next year, and helping those kids be in a setting that's going to look at the future as well as the present."

When the Boys & Girls Clubs decided to help provide summer activities for the Rubonia children, Brown was thrilled.

"I was really happy when we were approached and stated that we would get this program for nine weeks and free," she said.

"You don't know what benefit it is to the families unless you have walked the streets and dealt with families."

The Boys & Girls Clubs is only a temporary fix, as Manatee County is planning to negotiate with agencies seeking to take over the Rubonia Community Center, which closed in 2013.

On July 9, the county will host a meeting for groups "wanting to learn more about submitting proposals to assume ownership and operations of the Rubonia Community Center," according to the county website. After the 1 p.m. meeting in the commission chambers, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., the county will take the group on a visit to the community center. The deadline to submit proposals will be Aug. 20.

If the Rubonia Community Center had been open, the children wouldn't have to be taken to Palmetto for summer programs, Brown said.

"This center would be of service to them not only during the summer but year round," she said. "My concern is if this building is sold, how would this building benefit the community of Rubonia?"

At the start of the summer program Monday, Willie Cooper, director of the Palmetto Boys & Girls Club, went over the rules with about 260 children in attendance. Cooper told the children that the most important thing is for them to have fun.

"I think this is a great opportunity for them to come to the Boys & Girls Club," Cooper said. "It is a great opportunity to come over and enjoy the fun activities. ... We've got a lot of things planned for the kids, and I'm quite sure something positive is going to come out of it."

During the program, the children will use the game room, arts and crafts room, gym, and computer room and go on field trips. There will also be educational activities, Cooper said.

"During the summer, if they don't use it, they are going to lose it, so we are trying to help them not lose it," Cooper said.

Before Monday, Jordan Goff, 11, had only been to the Palmetto club once for her cousin's birthday party. Jordan was excited about her summer.

"I can actually do a lot of things, have open spaces and play around with people," she said.

Jahsoni Waiters, 12, was also excited to be at the Palmetto club Monday and meet new friends. If she wasn't at the club, she said she would be at home on her phone or going to the park.

"I won't have to be home all the time and get to meet new people," she said.

As a child, Shambria Carley, 20, attended the Palmetto club; now the State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota student is a summer counselor at the club.

The program for the Rubonia children "gets the community together to meet new people, learn about a lot of things and it is a great experience," she said.

As the Rubonia children boarded the bus Monday morning, Carley told them what their job would be at the Boys & Girls Club:

"Have fun and meet new people."

Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at caronson@bradenton.com. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.

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