Touching Children’s Lives

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, November 20, 2011

A kid gets out of school on a rainy Fridayafternoon. He walks across the streets of downtown Brookhaven. Hehears joyful noise from a compact building long before he entersit.

    This place is alive. The kid walks into the Boys and Girls Club andhugs unit director Melanie Lewis.

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    “I’ve been here for 21 years. All my life is connected withchildren,” Lewis said.

    Indeed, before joining the Boys and Girls Club, she worked in akindergarten.

    Lewis coordinates the spare time of 80 children who come to theclub right after school every workday. She supervises theiractivities and everything else at the club. She’s a very busywoman.

    “We play a lot; introduce the children to different kinds of boardgames. Moreover, we have a study time when kids are doing theirhomework. It helps them to do well, and actually a lot of them havegood marks. Also, we organize a couple of outdoors activities, likepicnics in the City Park, Girl Scout trips, library programs andvisiting nursing homes in summertime,” said Lewis, whose22-year-old daughter was also brought up in the Boys and GirlsClub.

    The club is open weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. These are the very threehours when these children – from kindergarten through sixth grade -are done with school and should be taken home.

    “Their parents can’t pick them up immediately, because a workday islonger than school time,” Lewis said. “If we didn’t exist, the kidswould just go home by themselves and anything might happen. Theyneed someone to take care of them.”

    Lewis has three volunteers to help her.

    They are high school students who want to make a difference. Someget school credit for their volunteer work, and all of them lovebeing with kids.

    One of them, Samuel Thomas, said, “Volunteering for Boys and GirlsClub helps you learn more about yourself. I have cousins and usedto teach them different things, so it was pretty easy for me to getalong with the children here. In my free time, I volunteer for theBrookhaven High School band, helping to set up the equipment anddoing other things they need.”

    Occasionally, adults help out at the club as well. Lewis said theyall find it rewarding.

    When she is not helping children at the club, Lewis works at theMississippi Adolescent Center, a residential facility that helpsmentally challenged children. She helps them to prepare for a “reallife” on their own.

    “It is very important for them to be able to read or to know theworld map. It will help them to survive in the future,” shesaid.

    Lewis has learned that it’s not always easy to help people,especially when it costs money.

    “One thing that once shocked me was running out of funds,” shesaid. “We even had to close for a month before we got our firstvolunteers; we simply did not have money to pay the staff. Now weare sponsored by local government, but different organizations alsomake a great contribution by making donations.”

    For Lewis, a financial profit is not always the most desirableprofit.

    “I’m being rewarded just by knowing that I touched a child’s life,”she said. “It’s always interesting to meet the kids, to learn theneeds of their families. I feel good when a grownup comes back andsays ‘thank you.'”

    As she spoke, the joyful noise of a room full of happy childrenrang through the walls of her office.

    It would be easy to imagine how someone dealing with this many kidsday after day could become frustrated and impatient. But Lewis andher volunteers take it with a smile.

    Volunteering, she said, is just “giving your time and yourheart.”

    Judging from all the kids who rush up to hug her, she’s touched alot of little hearts back along the way.