The Boys and Girls Club has been a fixture at the Lockwood Schools since 2002, but this year, without a doubt, has been the toughest of all.
When the pandemic hit last March, the Lockwood Clubhouse closed along with schools. It wasn't until September that the club was finally able to reopen.
In spite of its long absence, the Lockwood Club bounced back strong, sporting a whole new look and a new location in the original Lockwood School that opened in 1950.
"It was one of those spur-of-the-moment thoughts as we were moving out of this building," explained Lockwood School Board Chairman Tim Sather. "It gets the Club out of the middle of our campus and gives them their own spot. And especially with this COVID thing and having these kids here during the day, it allowed this to happen."
Sather credits Lockwood School Superintendent Tobin Novasio for coming up with the idea of moving the club into its own wing.
"What if we move the club over here and give them their own wing?" said Sather. "So we presented it to the Boys & Girls Club. Everyone seems excited on how it worked out, and I know our parents like the new drop off spot, close to the parking lot."
The club's new location opened on Sept.8. On Friday, the club hosted an open house for members of the Lockwood School Board.
"We have well over triple the space we used to have," said Brian Dennis, president and CEO with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Yellowstone County. "It's been a tremendous opportunity for us to spread the kids out, especially this year with the pandemic."
Included in the new space: new flooring, a snazzy new paint job, new furniture, and expanded hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to accommodate the new split schedule at Lockwood Schools. All paid for with federal coronavirus relief dollars from the CARES ACT.
"All new flooring in all the spaces, and we've got all new furniture thanks to some of the COVID relief funding we've been able to secure," said Dennis. "Plus, we're here from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., which is a big change. We've always been open from 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., so it's been quite an adjustment, but our staff has done a tremendous job."
So far this fall, around 60 club members have been attending each day, with room for more. Upstairs are two teen center rooms, and downstairs, a new games room and STEM classroom.
Program Manager Renae Heisler said the new space has brought a whole new vibe in the clubhouse.
"The kids absolutely love it," said Heisler. "Everyday something is changing, and they will notice and it just makes their day. Their eyes light up. It's awesome to see."
Heisler also said the club's location next to the parking lot has been a big hit with parents and kids alike.
"It is definitely much safer for the kids who do self-checkout," said Heisler. "They don't have to walk near as far, especially in the dark during these winter months."
So while the 2020 pandemic put the Lockwood Clubhouse on the sidelines for months, it's also given the club new life. A welcome change from the silence and emptiness of the past spring and summer.