CUERO – More and more children are learning, laughing and singing after school at The Boys and Girls Club of DeWitt County.

The club is running near its maximum enrollment. It has more than doubled in the number of school-year members since opening in 2014.

Unit Director Annemarie Leslie-Mees has been with the Club since 2017.

“I don’t like to turn people away,” Leslie-Mees said.

There are 110 children enrolled with an average attendance of 80 children.

Boys and Girls Club of DeWitt County

Members of The Boys and Girls Club of DeWitt County play Just Dance during the indoor recreational program.

“We have four staff members that handle the kids, and I usually do not like to go over 20 members per one staff,” Leslie-Mess said. “I feel like we can handle a little bit more, so this is the first semester that I haven’t capped at a certain number.”

During the school year, The Boys and Girls Club of DeWitt County is open to students ages 6 to 18 from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. every day after school for a registration fee of $30 a semester.

The Boys and Girls Club of DeWitt County is chartered by The Boys and Girls Club of Beeville.

Boys and Girls Club of DeWitt County

From left, Angelo Vasquez, 8, and Luke Brozowaki, 7, run inside after the outdoor recreational program at The Boys and Girls Club of DeWitt County.

“We get help from them, which is great because we’re a smaller community and we need that kind of support,” Leslie-Mees said.

The daily staff at the Club consists of the unit director, lead youth development professional Vanessa Melgoza and four youth development professionals.

“I really like working with kids and helping them through everything,” said Melgoza. “We (the staff) work very well together; it’s a really good team.”

In addition to the growth of attendance, The Boys and Girls Club of DeWitt County has grown in their programs.

The staff, program instructors and other volunteers work together to offer a variety of educational and fun programs to every member in the Club.

Jossiah Taylor, 11, has been a member of the club for five years.

“I made lots of friends; most of the kids here know me,” Jossiah said.

After receiving help with homework and eating a provided meal, the club members are divided into groups by grade. The youth development professionals bring the members to the different programs that are offered.

Boys and Girls Club of DeWitt County

From right, Joan Leslie teaches Brooklynn Bland, 8, and Ashlyn Gamez, 9, about primary colors during the science program at The Boys and Girls Club of DeWitt County.

These programs include indoor recreation, outdoor recreation, science, math, technology, art, fitness, nutrition and more.

With help from different grants and community fundraising, the club has instructors who come in on certain days to facilitate the different programs.

“We were given a grant from BHP for our Imagine the Possibilities campaign and that includes the plays that we put on every year,” Leslie-Mees said. “That was a three-year grant, and this is our last year that we have that.”

One of the programs that is currently offered is their yearly production.

Club members and temporary members are rehearsing for the “Mary Poppins Jr.” musical that will take place at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 and 2 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Cuero Performing Arts Center.

Boys and Girls Club of DeWitt County

The cast of “Mary Poppins Jr.” rehearses for their musical at The Boys and Girls Club of DeWitt County.

Rehearsals started in August, and the cast meets throughout the week.

In addition to the musical, the Club hosts an annual Gospel Brunch in February.

“These two events are our biggest fundraisers of the year,” Leslie-Mees said.

Tyesha Harrell, 16, plays the part of Mary Poppins in the musical.

Tyesha has been acting for six years and has been involved in three of the four productions put on by The Boys and Girls Club of DeWitt County.

“It’s always wonderful; everyone always loves it,” Tyesha said. “It’s really helped me come out of my shell.”

Boys and Girls Club of DeWitt County

Alesia Chatman, 8, flips through her script during rehearsal for “Mary Poppins Jr.” at The Boys and Girls Club of DeWitt County.

The rehearsals are run by director Laurie Krueger, choreographer Avis Blain, music director Heather Turk and stage manager Kayla Pickett.

“All the women that are involved in it are extremely talented,” Tyesha said.

Cheryl Pickell has two grandchildren who are members of the Club, and they have been attending for two years. Enrolling her grandchildren, Kaitlyn and Emily, has been a very positive experience for the family.

“I am able to rely on (the staff) without any concerns,” Pickell said. “When I pick (my grandchildren) up, they’re smiling.”

Pickell works in Victoria, so her grandchildren being enrolled in the Club makes it easier for her to pick them up after her shifts.

“I’m a grandmother raising grandchildren, and I don’t know what I would do without them (the Club),” Pickell said. “I feel great about my kids being there.”

Shelby Miller is the multimedia intern for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at samiller@vicad.com or @samillerphotos on Twitter.

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