After a long hiatus due to COVID-19, Decatur Youth Services is preparing to resume open gym and after-school tutoring at Carrie Matthews Recreation Center, and no-contact boxing training at Delano Park.

DYS Athletic Director Rico Pickett said concerns about the pandemic were considered and precautions will be taken, but the youths need the structure offered by the programs.

"We wrestled with it. We know they need to do something. We need to keep the crime level down," he said. "The kids are bored. When kids don't have something to do, they're going to get in trouble no matter who they are — black, white, whatever."

Open gym starts Monday and will take place Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Tutoring is scheduled to begin Sept. 21, which is also the start date for newly hired director Brandon Watkins. Tutoring for elementary, middle and high school students will take place Mondays through Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m.

Boxing training — which will include running laps, push-ups, sit-ups and other no-contact exercises — starts Monday for ages 8 and up. Up to 12 youths can participate in the sessions, which will be 4:30-5:30 p.m. Training at the park, weather permitting, will be Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Those interested in participating can sign up at the DYS office, 1202 Fifth Ave. S.W., or at Carrie Matthews, 902 Sixth St. N.W.

Pickett said the open gym sessions, which are during school hours, will primarily be men in the 20-30 age group. He said some school-age children may also participate if they are in virtual school.

"It's open gym, and if they've done their school work, we can't turn them away. Our rule normally would be that a kid can't come to Carrie Matthews until 3 p.m., but since they're doing virtual schooling at home we won't know when they get through with their work," Pickett said.

He is not overly worried about students abusing the flexibility.

"The kids that come, we know who they are," he said.

Those attending the Carrie Matthews programs will also have access to the game room. 

To limit crowds, only 20 people at a time will be allowed in open gym at a time. Temperature checks will be taken before they enter, and they will be required to use hand sanitizer before and after their time in the gym.

Tutoring for elementary students begins at 2:30 and generally ends by 4. High school and middle school tutoring will be from 4 to 7 p.m.

"They won't overlap with each other. The little kids can go to the game room while the big kids are doing their work," Pickett said.

Tutoring will take place at Carrie Matthews, he said, because it provides more space for social distancing.  

DYS Acting Director Lemzel Johnson said the activities provide an important outlet for Decatur youths.

"We're trying to get all the programs back up and going. We're trying to make sure what we provide to the community is phenomenal," Johnson said.

"When you look at all of what the kids have gone through with the COVID-19 and having to leave school early and not much to do over the summer, it's just great to get back to some sense of normalcy. Just because they're back in school doesn't mean all their problems are gone."

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