The smiles were abundant at Blue Ridge Elementary School as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbia celebrated its new after-school partnership with the Columbia Public School District on Wednesday afternoon.

The day was celebrated with a Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting ceremony, and approximately 35 students, teachers, chamber members and Columbia Boys & Girls Clubs staff were in attendance.

This is now the third school location that Columbia Boys & Girls Clubs has opened with the district’s elementary schools. The other two locations are Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary School and Derby Ridge Elementary School.

Columbia Boys & Girls Clubs’ main location, across from Hickman High School, serves as an affordable after-school care facility for many Columbia families, but it has reached the maximum enrollment of 250 children.

By establishing these new school site locations, Columbia Boys & Girls Clubs can serve more of Columbia’s children. Blue Ridge’s and Derby Ridge’s programs can serve up to 50 children each, and Alpha Hart Lewis’ program can support 100 kids.

Valorie Livingston, executive director of Columbia Boys & Girls Clubs, said it’s a great way for the organization to expand its reach.

“It’s very cost effective to serve those kids at the school building they’re already at,” Livingston said. “It reduces some of the transportation and access barriers that are very expensive to be able to provide and that prevent some kids from being able to attend.”

The district’s role in the partnership is to coordinate logistics such as rooms, buses home for the end of the night and the kitchen staff to feed the students a snack and dinner. Columbia Boys & Girls Clubs brings its activities and educational programs to the school, working with Blue Ridge’s teachers and paying them for one-on-one tutoring after hours.

Mark Burlison, Blue Ridge’s principal, said the new partnership provides an amazing opportunity for both the students and parents at Blue Ridge.

“It’s a guaranteed on-site, safe place for our students until 7 p.m.,” Burlison said. “It means a lot to every kid, and it’s an affordable option for all of our families.”

The program was made possible through funding from the Boone County Children’s Services Fund and other local funding sources, according to a news release. Amy Messner, the site director for the Blue Ridge program, said she was thrilled to get the funding that they needed to get the program off the ground.

“Most of our kids are on scholarship, so they pay about $20 a semester for after-school care,” Messner said. “It takes a lot to get to run this program, so I was worried at first. But it’s growing every week ... and we don’t discriminate based on ability to pay.”

Heather Southwood, a kindergarten teacher at Blue Ridge, said she’s grateful for the opportunity to work with her students and also other children as a tutor.

“I can help so many kids this way,” Southwood said. “And they make it so fun. The kids are just so happy to have this.”

Many students in attendance shared the reasons why they were excited for the new program, with the most popular answers being hanging out with friends, playing games and, of course, the snacks.

“I get to work on my homework at school and spend time with my cousin,” Blue Ridge second-grader Meyah Newhouse said. “And I get to eat cookies!”

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