STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
KINGSLAND — When the first day of school ends Aug. 16 for Packsaddle Elementary students, the children will have a safe place to stay until their parents get off work thanks to the efforts of a church, elected officials, and volunteers.
The Boys and Girls Club of Kingsland will officially open on the first day of the fall semester for Llano Independent School District, but the facility also will serve all area children, including those attending the private Kingsland School and homeschooled students.
The Kingsland School’s first day of class is Aug. 21.
The club will be located in the Family Life Center of First Baptist Church, 3435 RR 1431 West in Kingsland.
“There’s been a need (in Kingsland),” said Bill Drake, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of the Highland Lakes, which oversees the new Kingsland branch as well as units in Burnet and Marble Falls. “Kids can come get a healthy meal, sit and do homework. They can play and just be a kid and experience being a kid.”
“Here’s a way we can grow our ministry and grow what we’re doing,” said First Baptist Church youth pastor Jason Cullison, who also serves as the president of the Boys and Girls Club of Kingsland Branch Council.
The idea of a Boys and Girls Club in Kingsland is the result of conversations Drake had with parents living in the community in years past. They told him that bringing their children to the Boys and Girls Club of the Highland Lakes-Marble Falls unit during the summer was fine because they work in Marble Falls, so drop-off and pick-up was convenient.
Their concern, however, was doing that during the school year. With parents at work in Marble Falls or other communities, their kids often didn’t have a place to go after classes ended in Kingsland or someone to transport them to activities.
Around the first of the year, Drake had a conversation with Llano County Attorney Rebecca Lange, who does extensive work with several child-related services in the Highland Lakes. She told him Llano County was definitely interested in having a club.
Drake then invited members of the Llano Alliance for Drug Intervention and other community leaders to tour the Marble Falls unit.
Among the individuals visiting were three First Baptist Church of Kingsland pastoral staff members: senior Pastor Bubba Stahl, children’s minister Shelley Kizer, and Cullison.
On the way back to Kingsland, the three talked about how their congregation could help.
The church already was hosting Faith Families, a Wednesday evening program that allows students to do their homework, play, and eat a meal and averages at least 20 children a week.
As they talked, they realized the church might have already built the ideal facility for the club: the 60,000-square-foot Family Life Center. Months earlier, the church updated its Wi-Fi to accommodate 400 devices in anticipation that technology will be part of worship services in the future.
Two weeks after touring the Marble Falls facility, Cullison invited Drake to the church grounds, where the executive director toured the center.
“We recognized the need was great for more than one night a week,” Cullison said. “We were starting to wonder how we can have more of an impact than just a Wednesday program. Having a Boys and Girls Club was already something we were thinking about.”
Before they took it any further, however, Stahl asked longtime church member Lynda Davis why the Family Life Center was built.
“She immediately said, ‘We built this for the community,’” Cullison said. “Being on the pastoral staff, part of us being a good steward is to have that vision to do that.”
Then, they spoke to the leaders of the Faith Family team and the kitchen ministry. All were enthusiastic about the center being home to the Boys and Girls Club.
Church leaders explained the facilities and operation agreement to the congregation, and members voted on offering use of the center to the club. It passed 120-0 on May 14.
“They were completely for it,” Cullison said. “I feel like God has given us all the resources. We have to figure out how to minister to people where they’re at. The Boys and Girls Club has blessed this community by offering a cheap and affordable place.”
“First Baptist Church of Kingsland works with some of the kids already,” Drake said. “They know there’s such a need.”
The club will have access to the gymnasium, kitchen, courtyard, an additional room, two offices, and four classrooms and a youth sanctuary located on the second floor.
As for getting the students to the club, there’s already a bus stop at the back of the church.
The next step is finding a branch director for the club and a youth development specialist. The branch manager, who officials hope will be hired in time to start Aug. 1, will work about six hours a day, while the youth development specialist will work four hours a day.
They are looking for people who know the Kingsland community, Drake said.
The club will allow 50 students to start, and several of the church members are volunteering, but Drake said officials believe there will be many students on the waiting list.
The club has already received a $25,000 mentoring grant.
“That covers about half of what they need for nine months,” Drake said.
Funding for the rest will come from other organizations, including the Llano Crawfish Open, the Llano Alliance for Drug Intervention, and Rotary clubs.
“We are excited to share what has worked here (in Marble Falls) for 17 years going on 18 years to a community that needs it,” Drake said. “I’m extremely grateful and happy that these people came forward.”