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Boys and Girls Club of the Highland Lakes connects and cultivates

Boys and Girls Club of the Highland Lakes

Boys and Girls Club of the Highland Lakes Executive Director Bill Drake ensures the national organization's more-than-160-year-old mission is lived out every day at the Burnet, Marble Falls, Kingsland, and Llano sites. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

After class, Marble Falls Middle School sixth-grader Jayda Burton meets with friends to play, socialize, and do homework, at least until her aunt picks up her, her brother, and her cousin at the Boys and Girls Club of the Highland Lakes in Marble Falls. Since 2019, her family has been a part of the club, which also has sites in Burnet, Kingsland, and Llano. 

“It’s really fun because you get to meet all these other kids that you don’t know,” Jayda said. “You get to be friends with them.”

When asked if she’d rather be at home after school, Jayda answered without hesitation. 

“The club is better,” she said. “I just moved into a new apartment, and we’re getting situated. There’s really not that many things to do. (At the club) there’s things to do.”

While keeping kids safely occupied between school and when parents and guardians get off work, the Boys and Girls Club also offers a side benefit: improved learning skills. 

Burton’s aunt, Cierra Stevenson, credits the club with boosting her daughter Olivia’s reading ability. 

“She wanted to improve on being able to read better going into her first-grade year,” Stevenson said. “She’s gotten better from just that hour or two before I pick her up. She loves the fact that she’s able to get better with education. I’ve seen a huge improvement.”

Jayda Burton
Eleven-year-old Jayda Burton enjoys doing homework, playing with friends, and cleaning while at the Boys and Girls Club-Marble Falls unit. Staff photo by Nathan Bush

Each day, Stevenson witnesses the gains Olivia, Jayda, and nephew Noah experience as members of the Boys and Girls Club. Bettering children’s lives through education, character development, and support is the club’s mission, said Bill Drake, executive director of the Highland Lakes organization.

“We know the quickest way out of poverty is a high school diploma with a plan,” he said, adding that he and the staff work diligently to ensure kids are interested in returning each day. “The longer they’re here, the more likely they are to be successful, in our minds.”

Stevenson also benefits as she navigates a busy life as a single mother and working aunt.

“It’s very cost-effective,” she said about the club’s after-school program. “The hours are really great. I just need a little time to do grocery shopping or get a quick errand done before I have to get the kids. It’s not a babysitting service, but it’s so convenient and helpful. It’s a lifesaver.”

Drake believes the Boys and Girls Club not only promotes positive development but also keeps kids out of trouble.

“The worst thing for (kids) is to be home alone,” he said. “Most people, when you think of juvenile crime, think of 9, 10, 11 at night. Actually, juvenile crime in the United States goes up 350 percent between 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. when Mom and Dad aren’t home.” 

Providing parents with a safe space to send their kids is part of the club’s plan to strengthen the community, Drake said.

“It’s a club, but it’s a family,” he said. “The Boys and Girls Club provides parents — at a very reasonable cost — out-of-school care for their kids. It’s a place where kids can go and parents can feel safe that their kids are being taken care of by professionals and paid staff.”

Offering a safe, engaging, and economically feasible space for children while parents work is never more important than when school is not in session, which is mainly in the summer but also over holiday breaks.

“For some of them, (Christmas) is not much of an enjoyable time,” Drake said. “We do our best to make it a good time for each and every one of them.”

The Boys and Girls Club of the Highland Lakes gives out toys collected through a partnership with Marble Falls car dealership Johnson Sewell Ford.

“Every child at our club will go home with a gift,” Drake said. “It’s important that they get something from a place that is so much of their life.”

Afterward, kids sit down and write thank-you letters to teach them the importance of being grateful.

“We’ve been pretty much doing the same thing for 163 years,” said Drake, referring to when the national club was founded by four women in 1860 in Hartford, Connecticut. The very first mission was to help homeless boys develop character and encourage community involvement. The mission and focus evolved, and the organization eventually became the Boys and Girls Clubs of America in 1990.

The Highland Lakes club has served hundreds of children ages 6-18  since its founding in 1999. The older kids are involved but not necessarily as “club kids,” Drake said.

“If we have a 16-, 17-, or 18-year-old kid here, they’re going to be an employee,” he said. “We’ve had a lot that have come through the system and came back and worked for us.”

Other club missions include serving healthy meals to fight food insecurity when children are out of school.

“When the schools are closed, a lot of our kids go through food anxiety,” Drake said. “We end up serving that need during breaks.”

Summers are the club’s peak attendance months.

“We go from 3.5 hours to 10.5 hours,” he said. “We have to double our staff.”

Members set out on all sorts of fun adventures during the summer, including nearly 90 field trips across the club’s three sites to local attractions. 

“During the summer, our vans are booked like we’re Southwest Airlines,” Drake said. 

Hotspots for club members include the Austin Zoo, the YMCA in Burnet, Lakeside Park in Marble Falls, and the movie theater.

“Some of (the field trips) are educational, but it’s allowing kids to be kids,” he said. “It allows them to do something where they’re socializing in an environment where they’re learning personal and interactive skills.”

Jayda Burton’s favorite of the many field trips last summer was to Putters and Gutters in Marble Falls.

“We went to Putters and Gutters and did some golfing,” she said. “It was so much fun, but it was hot out there.”

Funding sources for the club’s many activities and other operational costs are scarce, Drake said.

“There’s a lot of grants for metro, there’s a lot of grants for inner-city, there’s a lot for reservations and military, but the rural communities are the stepchildren,” he said. “There’s just not a lot of grants.”

While the club is part of the larger Boys and Girls Clubs of America organization, it doesn’t receive a penny from it.

“We actually pay them to be a member,” Drake said. “It’s a federated model. We’re kind of like a franchisee.”

Roughly 95 percent of the local club’s budget is derived from individual donors at events such as the Buckaroo Ball held in November each year. The dinner and auction are almost always sold out way ahead of time.

“We rely on the community,” Drake said. “If we didn’t have the support of the community, we wouldn’t be able to do it.”

He is currently working on a new fundraising model to allow parents to earmark money for specific purposes.

“If people wanted to make a donation to a certain fund, we’re more than willing to make that possible,” he said. “If they do that, we can reserve that (money) for a specific purpose, whether it’s for recruitment, education, or something else. It can’t be spent on anything else. If you say you only want it to go to kids with size 7 shoes, then it will go to kids with size 7 shoes. I’m not sure how I’d do that, but I’d find out.”

The executive director is steadfast in his belief that his organization serves a need of historic proportions.

“We wouldn’t be around for 160 years if there wasn’t a need for the club,” Drake said.

Boys and Girls Club of the Highland Lakes sites are at 1701 Broadway St. in Marble Falls, 709 Northington St. in Burnet, 150 Pioneer Lane in Kingsland, and 1600 Oatman St. in Llano. Burnet also has a teen unit at 601 N. Wood St. 

For information on how to join the club, visit, call   830-798-2582, or email

Residents interested in volunteering at any of the club’s sites may call Programs Director Melissa Bohn at 830-798-2582.