Boys and Girls Clubs Reawaken after COVID lockdown

HARLINGEN — A boy parks his bike and knocks at the door.

Sophie Cantu, unit director at the LeMoyne Gardens Unit of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harlingen, opens the door.

Her eyes look affectionately at him over her mask as she takes his temperature. She sprays his hands with sanitizer, and he steps through the door. He also wears a mask, as do all children and staff at LMG and the Main Unit this week.

Inside, a couple of boys engage in a much-needed game of pool, filling the room with the welcome clatter of billiard balls; two girls laugh as they slam air hockey pucks across a table; in another room, several kids dance to a music video, And all of this while visibly trying to maintain a healthy distance and keeping masks wrapped tightly across their mouths.

It’s life after the COVID lockdown, but not life after COVID. People are still cautious about the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the United States and the rest of the world.

However, they’re beginning to come out of hiding. Slowly, lives are starting back up. Monday the Harlingen school district began both summer enrichment and summer remediation classes; in like manner two of the five units of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harlingen opened, albeit with some restrictions.

“We’re operating at 25 percent capacity right now,” said Gerald Gathright, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harlingen .

“We’re used to having a certain amount of kids,” Gathright said. “But because of the restrictions and our own precautions, wanting to be very careful ourselves, we’ve kept the number of children we allow in the clubs to a much lesser amount.”

The lack of something at LMG this week was visible, but so was the evidence of something.

Domanic Arriola, 14, leaned across the table with his pool stick, eyed the white cue ball closely, then fired it straight into another ball, knocking it into a corner pocket. He and his opponent, Mauricio Aguilar, 11, were enjoying the chance for some healthy competition and interaction generally.

“It feels fun,” Domanic said. “It’s good because you don’t have to be sitting at home.”

“It’s like being outside but indoors,” added Mauricio.

Neither boys were bothered by their masks.

“It keeps us from get the COVID, so it’s a good thing,” Domanic said authoritatively.

Many of the kids voiced energetic gratitude for the chance to get outside and exercise.

“I feel like I gained a lot of weight,” said Laura Garcia, 15, who will be a sophomore this year at the Harlingen School of Health Professions.

She’s wasted no time in rebounding from the two months in lockdown.

“I’ve been running a mile every day,” she said.

While the kids found the lockdown “boring” and “terrible” at least one parent found value in the time her family spent together.

“For us it’s been good,” said Claudia Leal. Three of her children are regulars at LMG.

“We have been talking more, we’re spending more time together, doing things as a family,” she said.

As for her kids Brandon, Mariana, and Joselyn wearing masks?

“It feels pretty strange but I know it’s for their own good,” she said.

And Joselyn …

“It protects us from COVID so I understand,” said Joselyn, 15. “I’m already used to it, but it’s hot at the moment.”

Next week the two club sites will be open at 50 percent capacity from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.