By JESSE HELLING
Messenger city editor
For eight years, Athletics for Education and Success has worked to fulfill the mission of "providing safe and affordable recreational and extracurricular activities while focusing on the importance of character, education, and living a positive lifestyle."
Teyera Johnson, left, and JayLynne McDonald, 6, read a book together during a recent Athletics For Education And Success at the former Hillcrest Elementary School building.
In September 2011, the program moved into a permanent home: the former Hillcrest Elementary School. The nonprofit youth organization purchased the closed school building in July 2011 from Fort Dodge Community School District for $1,000.
With a new facility came new possibilities to expand programming, said Charles Clayton, executive director for AFES.
The move from leased space in the former Sacred Heart school building has greatly increased square footage for the program, which serves children in kindergarten through eighth grade.
"We can specialize what we do more," Clayton said. "It's been great."
The new AFES building has distinct rooms for musical instruments, games and exercise equipment, as well as classroom space for each age level. A fully functional playground with plenty of green space is also a welcome addition, Clayton said.
In addition to art and music, Clayton said that the program is looking for more ways to diversify offerings through use of the facility's amenities.
"We're going to have some home-ec type stuff with the kitchen for middle school kids," he said.
However, one aspect of the new building is lacking.
The gymnasium, said Clayton, is not large enough to accommodate the athletics programs run by AFES, which include a basketball league.
"We can get about 10 kids at a time in the gym," he said.
Long-range plans for the AFES facility call for construction of a new gym.
Fundraising for that project is set to continue this year, Clayton said.
The new gym would be constructed on part of the property adjacent to the main building.
"We're hoping to raise between $200,000 and $400,000," he said.
Part of the funds will be raised through the auction of autographed sports paraphernalia, including material signed by the entire 1988 state-qualifying Fort Dodge Senior High basketball team, Clayton said.
A date for the auction will be set later in the year, Clayton said.
Prior to the purchase of the building, Clayton told members of the Fort Dodge school board that AFES would undertake a five- to 10-year plan for improvements to the building, which was built in 1956.
"It's a big risk investment," Clayton told the board. "But it's worth taking the risk, because we want the kids of Fort Dodge to have something to do. We want the parents of Fort Dodge to have somewhere safe for their kids to go. And that's why we're here. This facility would work absolutely great for us."
Meanwhile, AFES continues to settle in to the new space, Clayton said.
During the school year, between 60 and 80 children participate in the BLING after-school program daily, Clayton said.
Arriving at the AFES building by around 3:45 p.m., students have between 30 and 45 minutes of homework time.
Staff members and volunteers work with kids to help them learn their lessons.
"We're always looking for more volunteers," Clayton said.
Volunteers serve a number of roles, depending on their areas of expertise. Some help students learn reading or math, while others help students learn music.
The program also extends into the summer. Kids get breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack. They work daily on academics, with an emphasis on reading. They also get trips to local parks for recreation and out-of-town field trips.
AFES is also the Fort Dodge site of the Iowa Department of Education's Summer Food Service Program.
Contact Jesse Helling at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org