“Some of this has been disastrous:” Local after-school program faces tough questions for reopening in the fall


Amyre Makupson

Campus Clubs is a faith-based youth organization that serves students K-12 in the Pleasant Hill and Vineville neighborhoods of Macon.

“This summer has looked so different than any summer we’ve had,” Steven DeGeorge said.

DeGeorge is the program director at Campus Clubs, a faith-based youth organization that serves students K-12 in the Pleasant Hill and Vineville neighborhoods of Macon. 

After COVID-19 closed schools in the spring, Campus Clubs was prepared to reopen for the summer serving children who otherwise have nowhere to go during the day. But as cases of the coronavirus in Georgia increased in June, Campus Clubs was forced to keep its doors closed. 

“We looked around and the heart of our teaching staff are all elderly, retired teachers and are at pretty high risk,” DeGeorge said. “So we just thought, okay, let’s shut it down.”

DeGeorge said staff responses to reopening were mixed. A survey of Campus Clubs teachers at the beginning of the summer showed “willing, but hesitant” feelings about resuming operations. 

“I think it’s a real wake up call for us,” DeGeorge said. “Our work is important, but it’s only as important as the lives that make it important.”

Since staying closed for the summer, Campus Clubs has used the time to prepare for what DeGeorge calls a “soft start” in August. The soft opening will involve admitting some grades slowly rather than all at once to see how things go. 

Coming to Campus Clubs is a necessity for some students. As a program located near some of Macon’s lower-income neighborhoods, DeGeorge said many families rely on Campus Clubs for transportation from school and a place to go. With the program closed for the summer, DeGeorge said some children have been suffering.

“There’s a mom, she’s got three kids that really depend on Campus Clubs in the summer. They have no transportation, they don’t have a lot of resources. They’ve been basically relegated to their house in a pretty rough spot,” DeGeorge said. “I’m talking to a pretty desperate mom saying, ‘[My son] needs this,’ like, ‘We’re suffering right now.’”

DeGeorge said making the right decisions about reopening involves tension from multiple sides. From both perspectives, the safety of the students has to be the priority.

“It’s not worth the life of even one child to be hasty here,” DeGeorge said. “But you give it that same sentiment for the kids on both sides of the argument.”

Eventually, DeGeorge said, schools and after-school programs have to reopen for the sake of the students. For those who attend Campus Clubs, schools and youth organizations often provide resources that aren’t available at home.

“If they were all going home to families where they had access to the internet, if they were in a solid financial state where one of the parents could always be home and take on some of the education, it wouldn’t be as dire,” DeGeorge said. “But that’s not the reality we’re living in.”

DeGeorge said Campus Clubs is following Gov. Brian Kemp’s checklists for issues like disinfection and in-person classes when reopening schools and childcare facilities. The program is also following CDC guidelines for childcare programs that remain open. The program was able to earn COVID-related grants to build a stock of hand sanitizer, masks, gloves, face shields and thermometers. Funds are also going towards bi-monthly professional cleaning of the facilities. 

“We’re just trying to be as wise as we can and listen as much as possible,” DeGeorge said. “You can survive for a while without school but at some point, we got to get going and I think for kids living in desperate situations, it’s even that much more important.”