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Zacary Johnson can’t imagine being at home with four other siblings while school is shut down.

“That’s why I come here,” said the seventh-grader. “I don’t know how to deal with them.”

“Here” is a familiar place that offers homework help, breakfast, lunch and a snack, time to garden and see friends – The Trower Center of the Vacaville Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club.

“We have kept our doors open for up to 30 kids,” said Anna Eaton, executive director. “About 20 show up.”
The center’s leaders felt it must stay open to offer an alternative to parents who are considered essential workers and have no other options for child care. The decision came after much discussion, including among board members such Solano County Superintendent of Schools Lisette Estrella-Henderson.

A waiting list has been started to meet the growing demand, Eaton said. It’s an essential service for essential workers, she said.

“We serve those who need it most,” she said.

With some changes. Each child must wear a mask and have their temperature taken as they arrive and depart. Hands are sanitized after activity. Each room that has been used is also sanitized.

Two hours of schoolwork per day is required, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Breakfast, lunch and a snack are provided – delivered by those who work in the Vacaville School District’s food services division.

“They are excited they can come here and get support,” Eaton said.

The youth, who range in ages from 6 to 16, have responded well.

“We keep things calm and consistent,” Eaton said. “The kids are well aware (of the novel coronavirus).”

Many of them were already familiar with 20-second hand-washing as well as social distancing prior to the school closures.

Zacary arrives about 9 a.m. and stays until he gets picked up at 5 p.m. He has another sibling in the program.

He does homework, plays video games and works outside in the center’s garden.

“I don’t mind coming here every day,” he said.

Zahary said he yearns to return to school to see more friends and work at math.

“I’m pretty bad at math,” he said.

If he were home?

“I’d probably be bored to the point I would go to sleep for fun,” he said.

Aryanna Medrano, a third-grader, has been part of the Vacaville Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club for about three years. If the center wasn’t open, she’d “probably be at home in bed all day,” she said.

Now she sees familiar faces, does homework and gets some exercise with social distancing guidelines in place.

Eaton’s first thought was the Vacaville Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club had to remain open. Then, she wanted to figure out to keep as many staff on as possible. They are on reduced hours and some have been transferred from other sites to help out.

The program has nine sites, many of them at schools. The Trower Center is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The teen center is open from 1 to 6 p.m.

One of two fundraisers for the program may be canceled. It provides money for spring and summer.

“We are pivoting,” Eaton said.

She’s already filled out a small business loan application and is ready to submit it.

The Vacaville Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club is the only one in Solano County, Eaton said. The nearest one, in Napa, is open for food distribution only.

“For us, it was best to stay open and be here for the kids,” Eaton said. “This is their shelter-in-place.”

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