UPDATE: The Boys and Girls Club auction venue is changed to Gibraltar Hotel in downtown Paris. The story is updated to reflect the change.

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For hundreds of children throughout Lamar County, the Boys & Girls Club of the Red River Valley has provided them a safe place to learn, have fun with friends and lay the foundations for a bright future.

The after-school program, open to children from first grade through high school, consistently serves roughly 250 children throughout Lamar and Red River counties, executive director Jason Macchia said.

And once students arrive at the center when school ends, there’s no shortage of things for them to do. The main room is filled with foosball tables, air hockey tables and other games. In the art room, students can work on arts and craft projects, and in the homework room, as the name suggests, they can quietly work on their schoolwork, with a volunteer ready to provide assistance if anyone needs it.

The Boys & Girls Club also has computer labs for students to enjoy, either for leisure or to work on school projects.

And this year, the club added a musical component to its offerings, as it added several instruments, including guitars and keyboards.

Last year, the Boys & Girls Club added a teen room, complete with couches to relax on, video game consoles and other amenities.

“It’s funny, the younger kids get here and immediately want to play, but the older kids get here and just want to relax for a bit once school is out,” Macchia said. “We wanted to give them a space where they could do that and there wouldn’t be younger kids disturbing them, and our staff is much more relaxed with them.”

The program also offers a pair of classes for children about to enter their teen years and undergo puberty, Macchia said.

“Smart Girls is our girls-only program with a focus on helping them understand personal relationships, what a healthy relationship looks like, the changes in their bodies and that sort of thing,” Macchia said. “We do have a counterpart for the boys, and that program is called Passport to Manhood.”

The Boys & Girls Club offers students a place to go when the school day ends, but the club doesn’t stop serving the youth of Lamar and Red River counties when school lets out for summer.

On the contrary, the club offers daylong programs during the summer months, from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

During the summer, the club does more with the kids, including taking them on field trips to places in the local community and beyond.

“This past summer, we took a field trip to the Perot Museum in Dallas, which was a lot of fun and went over really well,” Macchia said. “We really enjoy doing things like that for the kids.”

And for children looking to get involved in sports, they can also look to the Boys & Girls Club. The program has football, baseball, softball, basketball and volleyball teams throughout the year, and they travel around the region to play other clubs, Macchia said.

“Our teams do well, but for us the important thing isn’t so much the wins and losses, but that they learn the important skills,” he said.

The cost to register in the afterschool program is $50 per child per year, and the cost to register in the summer program is $20 per month. The cost to sign up for one of the sports teams varies based on the sport, but typically ranges from $20 to $30. However, the cost to sign up for the football team is $70.

“That one is a bit more expensive because of the cost of the equipment,” Macchia said. “Just a helmet costs $100, so the cost to register doesn’t even cover the kid’s helmet.”

One of the primary sources of funding for the organization, the annual auction, is fast approaching.

The auction is scheduled for Dec. 6 at Gibraltar Hotel, 255 S. Main St. in Paris, a change of venue from the previously announced 1st Street Media. The auction will run from 6 p.m. until all the items are bid, said vice president of the board Montgomery Moore.

Auction items are still being determined, but Moore said they will include music memorabilia from the Oak Ridge Boys, sports memorabilia from Dallas sports teams, vacation packages and much more.

The fundraising goal is $150,000, and goes to everything from salaries to utilities to resources for the children. Moore said he’s confident they can reach their goal, as the fundraiser collected roughly $167,000 last year.

“The Boys & Girls Club does a lot of good in the community and is a great resource for the kids, and this is crucial for us,” he said.

Tommy Culkin is a staff writer for The Paris News. He can be reached at 903-785-6972 or at tommy.culkin@theparisnews.com.

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