Boys & Girls Club welcomes Jessica Smith as branch director
By LYNETTE SOWELL
Jessica Smith is now nearly one month into her position as the new branch director for the Boys & Girls Club in Copperas Cove and has hit the ground running.
A military veteran, Smith brings a psychology degree along with more than 11 years of working in the information technology field, where she also taught adult learners at New Horizons Computer Training. While in the military, she was also active with the family readiness group. She has her sights set on earning a master’s degree in neuropsychology, focusing on psychology and education.
When making the switch to the Boys & Girls Club, Smith said she was ready for a leadership opportunity leaning toward her degree program and finds this is the perfect fit.
“Coming in, they told me there’s going to be a lot of challenges, not just with the kids, but trying to sustain,” Smith said. She works with the four-person board, made up of local volunteers to include Sandor Vegh, Inez Faison, Patricia Thomas and Laura Jordan.
“They’re all really good people,” Smith said.
Smith said she can relate to what some of her students face.
“I myself have ADHD, and growing up I had a learning disorder, so a lot of the kids that come in here, I can connect with and really help them and show them a different way to overcome barriers,” Smith said, noting that the program has some at-risk students who may also have behavior issues, learning disorders, or other types of challenges.
She said it’s rewarding to work with a child and see what she calls “that one moment” for them.
“When they come in here and they talk with me, and they see that I’m not going to just punish them, but I’m going to sit down and find why they did the thing that they did, and explain to them, and that moment, when they’re like, ‘Oh, now I see!’ That one moment is worth every single bit of it…the first time it happened, it was my first day here, and it was awesome.”
Every weekday afternoon until 7 p.m., she and her staff of six welcome 150 students ages five to 12 to the center, located in the Fairview side of Fairview-Jewell Elementary School. The students have snack, Power Hour during which they get their homework done, then rotate through several different programs to include art, fitness, and a game room.
“We also have a step team that we started. It is awesome. The person that runs the step team is the game room teacher. He asked who wanted to start the step team, and we had 50 signups,” said Smith. “It really boosts their confidence. He is going to gradually teach them more and more.”
Smith said students have also signed up for the unit’s new choir program and they are planning for caroling at Christmas time. Smith said a local unit is free to choose its own programs, as long as they boost confidence and learning skills.
She is also looking at ways to boost funding for the Copperas Cove unit.
“Recently, they’ve come up with a donation portal where each unit can start its own portal on its webpage,” Smith said, adding that they will be updating the website as well.
“We really need to get out there. I want to take some of the older kids and do a community service program, where they will go to nursing homes and visit with the older people, play games with them. I think that’ll be really good for the community service aspect. They can interact and maybe even learn some things from the older men and women.”
She also talked about the unit’s WRAP program, something they started in-house.
“It’s for social and emotional development. A lot of the kids that in the program, selected either by their parents or staff, many of them have anger issues, and they go to WRAP and learn coping skills, how to handle their emotions.”
Smith also has her sights on bringing more technology to the Copperas Cove unit via a national Boys & Girls program called Myfuture.net, in which the students can create accounts through the Boys & Girls Club’s program and complete activities to win prizes through the club.
“I want to get at least six computers and have the kids rotate through the activities.”
The Boys & Girls Club is a nonprofit organization, dependent on funds raised to keep the local units open. Families pay $100 per year per child for the afterschool program, with an additional charge for afterschool transportation to the center.
During November, Smith said the unit is looking for people to “adopt” families for Christmas, and will be collecting monetary donations as well as toys for the families.