Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Pizza, Ping-Pong, and Accountability: After School Program is Back

Eva Dishman, Keith Brown, Eunice Snyder, and Flo Bellamy welcome students back to the Johnson County/Mountain City Community Center’s After School Program in Mountain City. Photos by Dan Cullinane

By Dan Cullinane
Freelance Writer

The Johnson County/Mountain City Community Center’s after-school program kicked off a new year of providing a fun, safe, and supportive environment for the area’s young people, and by Friday afternoon, center Director Flo Bellamy was tired, happy and grateful. In the rec room, high schoolers played pool, and Ping-Pong, while younger kids took to the activities room, and those with homework headed for the quieter computer lab. In her office, Bellamy leaned back in her chair and reflected on this week’s return, as well as last year’s remarkable events. “The community really showed how much they value this program,” she said of the well-documented struggles the center faced after a $50,000. LEAPS grant evaporated just as school started up in August 2020.

Bellamy and her staff opened the doors to the center and did their best to provide food, recreation, tutoring, and other valuable services they offer but were uncertain of whether or how long they would survive. But the community was nowhere near ready to bid farewell to the program. The Hometown Service Coalition, along with the Johnson County Community Foundation, Johnson County Bank, Elizabethton Federal Bank, Farmers State Bank, Unique Boutique, Operation Pocket Change, and the United Way of East Tennessee Highlands, stepped up to fill in the funding gaps and the doors remained open. Now, as the first week of the 2021 school year draws to a close, the 40-65 kids who come and go each day have downed pizza, dunked basketballs, sunk eight balls, completed homework, and spent time with friends, all the while living up to the standards that the community center expects.

Covering the words that might be printed on a t-shirt, to the terms that might slip out of their mouths, the code of conduct for the after school program, which is posted throughout the center, is enforced by Bellamy and her staff comprised of Eunice Snyder, Eva Dishman, and Keith Brown. Well trained and background checked, the adults at the center, whether staff or volunteer, provide non-intrusive supervision, allowing young people the autonomy to create their own space while ensuring the space remains safe and inclusive.

“We are the bridge between the ‘go here, sit there, do this’ world of school and the outside world that doesn’t pay any attention,” Bellamy said of the role the center plays in developing young people. “We’re not their parents, but we do teach them that what they do or say has consequences.”

Friday, the mood was buoyant, boisterous, and easy-going. One young man doffs his cap to show off his mullet, the unfortunate hairstyle of the ’80s that is making an inexplicable comeback among high school and college students, and shares why he comes here after school.

“I can play basketball or football and hang out with my friends,” he said. The recently restored Ralph Cunningham Park is a big draw, as is the social scene at the center, as another teen explained that he’s here because he can spend time with his girlfriend.

But the quiet areas for tutoring and studying are also important to the kids. “I do my algebra homework here,” a young woman taking a break to play Ping-Pong said. “I have two little brothers, so I do my work here where I can concentrate.”

Parents or kids interested in enrolling in the after-school program at the center are encouraged to stop by and fill out an enrollment form. Drop-ins are welcome; however, if a student wants to come regularly, enrollment is required. Anyone wishing to support the center’s work by making donations, volunteering to teach classes, or provide tutoring, should also drop by and talk to Bellamy. Call (423) 727-2492 or stop by the Community Center at 214 College Street in Mountain City.