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CSX sends scores of volunteers to improve Boys & Girls Club

CSX Transportation employees and volunteers Reginald Johnson and Julia Herron help construct new benches for the A.R. "Gus" Barksdale Boys & Girls Club in Conyers.

CSX Transportation employees and volunteers Reginald Johnson and Julia Herron help construct new benches for the A.R. "Gus" Barksdale Boys & Girls Club in Conyers.

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Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith CSX employees and volunteers, from left, Erin Busby and Billy Parry spread mulch on the playground at the A.R. "Gus" Barskdale Boys & Girls Club in Conyers.

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The baseball field at the A.R. "Gus" Barksdale Boys & Girls Club in Conyers gets some much-needed improvements from volunteers with CSX.

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William Ferroli with CSX Transportation works on the wall mural painting in the gymnasium of the A.R. "Gus" Barksdale Boys & Girls Club in Conyers.

In the game room of the Conyers Boys and Girls Club, a group of people assemble, sand and paint park benches. More work in the kitchen, putting fresh color on the walls and painting food murals.

A group outside on the ball field clears away sod to reveal fresh dirt so kids can run safely around the bases. Others spread fresh wood chips on the playground.

The teen activity room is filled with people painting murals of dancing figure silhouettes, sunsets and inspirational phrases like "be courageous."

The wall of the gymnasium is also getting a mural -- a wall-long silhouette of city buildings -- accented by more encouraging words like "think big" and "integrity always."

"What do you think so far?" said Chelsea Locklear, a City Year project coordinator.

"I love it, every single thing," said Carol Wyre, program director for the Boys and Girls Club. "I've just been mouth open from one room to another."

The beehive of activity at the club comes courtesy of CSX Transportation company and City Year, a nonprofit education service organization. CSX supplied 175 volunteers from across the country who dedicated a day of service to the club, and 12 City Year volunteers arrived a few days before the project to lay the groundwork. CSX sponsors City Year in its effort to improve parks, schools, recreational centers and other public places.

The CSX volunteers spent Tuesday at the club, from morning to late afternoon, as part of a three-day, large scale Public Safety and Environment Conference that provides training for CSX Public Safety and Environment workers and contractors.

They refurbished the club's ballpark (including restoring the dugout), painted hopscotch and four-square games on the sidewalks in the back of the building, spread 6 inches of child-friendly wood chips on the playground area, constructed 10 benches and refurbished 10 more.

They also built an outdoor classroom with seating and a stage, built six picnic tables and refurbished six, painted the snack room and kitchen walls, painted wooden murals that will be hung outside on the fence, and painted basketball court lines.

Wyre said that a few days before the volunteers arrived, the children at the Boys and Girls Club spent several hours cleaning out the club's rooms and closets, tossing out broken furniture and other obsolete items. CSX provided a Dumpster for the discarded things.

"The kids were excited. They took ownership (of the club)," Wyre said. "It really did make a difference. They were proud of what they did."

Wyre said the labor provided by the volunteers is invaluable. The club struggles to keep up with basics, such as air conditioning and roof repairs, and doesn't have the means or the staff to improve the club's aesthetics, upkeep play areas and build new interior and exterior furniture.

"We don't get a chance to do it," Wyre said. "What they're doing in one day is something that would have taken us a year."

Established in 1977, the A.R. "Gus" Barksdale Boys and Girls Club in Conyers serves roughly 215 children daily from Rockdale, Newton and surrounding counties. Registered club members number 336, and during the summer as many as 250 children daily use the club, which is open in summer months from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

During the school year, the club is open from 2 to 6:30 p.m. for ages 6 to 12, and until 8 p.m. for teens, making it an affordable option for parents who need after-school care for their school-age children. Cost for the club is $35 per year.

Wyre said some children at the club come from situations of homelessness or domestic abuse. Others live with financial struggles.

The improvements at the club add to the nurturing efforts already being applied by staff members.

"The way that it affects the children personally is for them to believe that people value them, to realize that they are worthy enough for people to invest in them," Wyre said. "Sometimes this is the only place they can go to feel good about themselves."