Students received a major surprise at the Jackson Teen Center (JTC) on Wednesday, Feb. 13.
First, though, they had to make some noise.
“Before we reveal anything today, are there are any Jackson Teen Center members in here,” Executive Director Brian Mayes asked -- and the recently refurbished JTC dining hall was packed with them -- “Jackson Teen Center, make some noise.”
There were some cheers, but it wasn’t the full effect Mayes was hoping to hear.
So, he told staffers to wait on the pizza and for national rental company Aaron’s to, perhaps, take everything back they had brought that day.
“So, if you’re excited about what’s about to happen here, let me hear you make some noise!”
That did it, with JTC kids wildly applauding and cheering.
What the students got to see that day was a complete renovation of their game and “3.5” rooms, the latter being called that as a special hangout for students whose grade point averages are 3.5 or higher. Aaron’s picked the JTC as the 34th Boys & Girls Club affiliate in the nation to receive such a renovation.
Students’ mouths dropped in shock, some covering them with their hands, as they walked into the game room to find a line of gaming consoles with wide-screen monitors and gaming chairs, a pool table, board games, and flat-screen TVs. In the 3.5 Room, JTC members found another pool table and large flat-screen TVs, couches and other amenities.
JTC RevealRaw footage of Jackson Teen Center students seeing their upgraded game room on Feb. 13, 2019, courtesy of Aaron's in Camden. (1 minute 58 seconds).
Before the students got to see their surprise, Boys & Girls Club of Kershaw County (BGCKC) Executive Director Robin Saviola recognized BGCKC board members and the JTC staff, and thanked Aaron’s for their contribution.
“I came by and saw the rooms -- I took a sneak peek. I couldn’t handle it, though, it’s amazing you guys, it’s incredible what they’ve done,” Saviola said, adding that the JTC kids have “earned everything that’s in that space.”
Aaron’s Stephanie Kozol said the local staff, led by store manager Marcus Carter, was “very humbled” to be able to assist the JTC with the upgrades.
“I, myself, was part of the Boys & Girls Club many, many years ago, because I’m old,” Kozol joked, before asking Camden Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford to say a few words.
Drakeford said she couldn’t wait to see what the company had done.
“This was my high school,” the mayor said, referring to the years when it was home to Jackson High School, “and I will never forget the first day when I set foot into this building. I had come from Kirkland, which is now Baron DeKalb, and to be coming into town to this high school, it was amazing.”
Drakeford said one of the rooms was her biology and chemistry room.
Mayes said that even before Aaron’s got involved, others got the ball rolling, including Dr. Margaret Lopez, pastor of God’s Deliverance Center, who not only donated money toward, but actually worked on, the renovation of the dining hall the teens were in at that moment. The hall is now named in her honor.
JTC Keystone Club member Meg Mirshak not only thanked Aaron’s, but explained why they deserved the thanks.
“We live in a small town, so you pretty much see the same thing everywhere you go. There’s generations upon generations living here and (right now) you see a lot of construction and renovation. So, we want to thank Aaron’s for coming in and spicing up the teen center,” Meg said.
Mayes then recalled the aftermath of Camden’s only gang-related murder, that of Camden High School student Michael Smith in December 2007. It was then, he recalled, that he first met Paul Napper, executive director of The ALPHA Center. The two have worked together often on giving area youth alternatives to gang and other destructive activities.
“The Boys & Girls Club is at the level it needs to be,” Napper said, referring specifically to the JTC.
He recalled how Mayes was at a low point, ending up in his office on the very day he was supposed to go to Columbia to interview to be the JTC’s director.
“He has a unique ability to, along with his wife, Roberta, to charm young people. I have never seen a more natural ability than these two people, put together, to hold the interest of young people,” Napper said, going on to talk about their work together on such things as weekends at the Waterfowl Association in Sumter County, summer flag football and basketball programs and more.
It was after all of that “Mr. BB,” as Mayes is often called, came to Napper with a dilemma.
“I’m going to tell a little secret: They wanted Mr. BB to run it,” he said, referring to former Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan and former KCSD Grants Manager Kevin Rhodes, who Napper said were responsible for bringing the Boys & Girls Club to Kershaw County. “But he didn’t want to run it. He’d had a bad experience with another organization. He was in my office and I asked him, ‘Where are you supposed to be.’ And he said, ‘I’m supposed to be in Columbia interviewing for a job with the Boys & Girls Club.’”
Napper said he asked Mayes why he wasn’t at the interview, and Mayes told him he wasn’t going to go, that he wasn’t interested. In response, Napper said he told Mayes, “Always go to the table. Many people don’t get invited to the table, but you can always walk away.”
That inspired Mayes to go to the interview, leading to his become the JTC’s executive director.
“It has been a five-year process of every time something needed to be done here … everybody in this county, in this city, groups, individuals, Mr. Joe Sullivan (a BGCKC board member) has come together to put a brick, to put a block, to put a window, to put a door, to put a roof and put a gymnasium on this building to where we are now. You young people today truly have a Boys & Girls Club that you can be proud of and one that you deserve,” Napper said.
Paul Napper at JTCALPHA Center Executive Director Paul Napper’s full comments on Feb. 13, 2019, at the Jackson Teen Center ahead of the reveal to JTC kids of their renovated game rooms. (8 minutes, 40 seconds)
After a few words from Boys & Girls Club of South Carolina State Director Carter Clark, it was finally time for the “big reveal.” Students went into the game and 3.5 rooms in small groups. They also got to enjoy that promised pizza.
A few days later, Mayes reported the teens were still excited about the new equipment. But, he said he reminded them, going into the game and 3.5 rooms is a privilege that must be earned by showing their academic progress to Mayes and his staff.