JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER
BURNET — While standing in a room at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, something came over Bill Drake.
“I had an epiphany at the Epiphany church,” joked the executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Highland Lakes.
That revelation was to turn the room, in which he once taught science and math classes, into a teen center for the club’s Burnet unit.
To further confirm he was on the right path, Drake counted the number of teens walking by on Wood Street while he waited to talk to the church’s vestry, the governing council of the congregation, about his idea.
“Just in that one area, there were 25 kids going home,” he said. “And they were going to be unsupervised. I thought, ‘What a great need we’re going to be able to attract.’ They’ll have some enrichment and learn some stuff rather than sit in front of the television. It’s definitely exciting for us.”
Ten teens have already signed up to attend the center, which will open for the first time Wednesday, Jan. 4, at the church, 601 Wood St. Regular hours will be 3:30-7 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Drake said he first saw the need for a teen center when he was hired by the Boys & Girls Club of the Highland Lakes in 2012. He deemed the teen room at the Burnet unit too small.
He looked into expanding the 4,000-square-foot facility or purchasing a portable building to put next to the club but decided against it at the time because of cost. He then began having conversations about building one. He and officials at the YMCA of the Highland Lakes at Galloway-Hammond discussed constructing a center there, but when officials looked at the costs, they also determined it would be too expensive.
A teen center at the church, however, proved to be the right move.
Once the church vestry approved the center, Drake began interviewing for a teen center director and hired Victoria Rucker, a former Boys & Girls Club of the Highland Lakes-Marble Falls unit employee who also worked for the Head Start early childhood learning program for 18 months.
“She’s going to be great,” Drake said.
Rucker said the staff wants the teen center to be a positive place that offers fun activities as well as life-building programs such as community projects, college prep classes, and job shadowing.
“We’ll have fun, but we’ll have positive character,” she said. “We want them to discover who they are and learn about themselves and what they want to do in life.”
The center will have a table soccer game, a 60-inch TV, and an electronic game machine as well as four desktop computers and four laptops to be used for homework.
Drake has made arrangements with Burnet Consolidated Independent School District officials for access to an online encyclopedia the students will use to write papers and complete other assignments.
While the new teen center has a refrigerator, it also needs a chest freezer to store frozen foods for after-school snacks. In addition, the center is asking for bean bag chairs “or something kids can lounge on” for the TV area, Drake said.
A three-acre field across from the church’s parking lot will be used for a soccer and football field and volleyball and basketball courts. Drake hopes someone might donate a volleyball net and a mobile basketball goal.
“It’s going to work out great,” he said about the new teen center. “The church is happy to be able to provide something that helps the youth of Burnet.”
The Boys & Girls Club-Burnet unit, 709 Northington St., is also in need of a freezer. The current one isn’t expected to last much longer.
Over in Marble Falls, the unit at 1701 Broadway St., with its 21 square feet, has plenty of space for young members, but Drake said the facility is in need of board games, game room items such as Blu-Ray players, and elementary-age books.
Dwight Batch, the chairman of the Boys & Girls Club of the Highland Lakes board, said having the Burnet teen center will help in many ways.
“Our facility in Burnet is very small for the number of kids,” he said. “We have a waiting list (for elementary-age children). We want to be able to pull teens out of the club and into the teen center, which will open up spots (at the main unit).”
He noted that some teens will use the facility in between their after-school activities, but it will be priceless for those who aren’t involved in sports, academic clubs, or social gatherings.
“It’s something the kids need over there,” he said. “This is an opportunity for them to have their own place.”
For more information about the Boys & Girls Club of the Highland Lakes, go to bgc-hl.com. The Burnet unit can be reached by calling (512) 756-1444. Call the Marble Falls unit at (830) 798-2582.