“I definitely want to go to college,” says DeMarcus, a well-spoken 11-year-old from Burgess-Peterson Academy in East Atlanta. “I’ll get my degree and I want to be a pilot.”
That’s a dream that the East Atlanta Kids Club is dedicated to helping him achieve.
DeMarcus has just finished his homework for the day and is ready to join his friends for a charades-type partner game in the main recreation room at Brownwood Park Recreation Center.
So goes a typical scene at East Atlanta Kids Club. The elementary school kids come to the Club on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, where they will usually start the afternoon with an outdoor activity (weather permitting), complete their homework with tutors, and then wrap up with another fun, enriching game.
The middle school kids show up a bit later and will often start their afternoon with an educational activity, such as recently reading an article about the crisis in Egypt and then answering a questionnaire about what they learned.
On Wednesdays, the high schoolers (known as the “Teen Club”) attend the Club and participate in activities that will help them progress academically and thrive post-high school, such as college application and preparation or honing their trades and communication skills.
Saturdays consist of field trips or community service projects for the kids. This week, they went ice-skating as a group.
The 501(c)3 nonprofit currently serves about 100 kids, ages 7 to 17 (or until they graduate high school) and about 60 of those kids are active, coming to the Recreation Center once or twice a week.
Many of the children are in need of positive role models and more academic help than they receive in school.
In 1998, founder Jill Sieder and some neighbors in the East Atlanta area saw a need for a program that would serve youth who had limited after-school and summertime options.
She created East Atlanta Kids Club to provide these kids a safe and stimulating place to play, learn and express themselves under the supervision of caring adults.
They began meeting at the Brownwood Park Recreation Center and when there was threat of the Center closing in 2008, they fought to keep it open. Today, Sieder and her staff manage and operate the city-owned space.
The space is impressive with outdoor facilities including tennis and basketball courts and acres of land for the kids to enjoy.
“We get to play outside and just have freedom,” says DeMarcus. His favorite sports to participate in at the Club are tennis and running.
In addition to more “fun” and social activities, academics are one of the major components of the Club. There is a year-long one-on-one mentoring for the children.
“There is a solid hour of tutoring each day, and we’ll bring in Kaplan instructors for SAT prep for the high-school kids, take them on college tours and help with setting up job shadowing opportunities,” Sieder said.
The East Atlanta Kids Club is a completely elective program (although, for the younger ones, their parents play a part in the decision process). But, for Najijah, 16, she made the decision to start attending on her own.
“I saw my next-door neighbor coming [to East Atlanta Kids Club] and every time I saw Miss Jill [Sieder], she always had a smile on her face, so it seemed fun,” Najiyah said. “I asked my mom if I could start going.”
Najiyah says it helps her get her homework done. She also tries to go on as many of the field trips as she can and was looking forward to ice skating for the first time.
Biking is a large part of the East Atlanta Kids Club as well. Their largest fundraiser is the Brownwood Bike Rally and Run, which will take place on May 14 this year. There is even a room full of bikes at the Recreation Center for the kids to use.
The Club also partners with an organization called Tri-Kids, Inc., which trains kids for mini-triathalons. There have been many East Atlanta Kids Club kids who have completed the races, many of them having to learn to swim for the purpose.
In addition to the fundraiser, East Atlanta Kids Club’s annual budget of about $300K is raised through corporate donors, individual donors and grants.
You can learn more about the Kids Club and how you can help by visiting the organization's website.