JASPER — The question that Cassie Crowell gets asked the most when she is out in the community with youth participating in the Boys and Girls Club of Central Alabama's local summer program is, "Are y'all new?"

In fact, the oldest Boys Club in the South was formed in Birmingham in 1901. (The name was changed in 1990 to reflect a commitment to serving boys and girls.)

Crowell, who became Jasper's unit director in 2015, recently gave an update on the program to fellow Rotary Club of Jasper members.

BGCA, a Christian-based nonprofit organization, serves more than 12,000 youth annually in central Alabama. The Jasper unit is one of nine located in Walker, Jefferson, St. Clair and Shelby counties.

In fact, BGCA has had a presence in Walker County for more than 30 years. Camp Jimmy Goodwin on Smith Lake hosted a summer day camp beginning in 1982. The first local afterschool program was established in 1988.

BGCA currently hosts an after-school program that serves kindergarten through third grade students at two Jasper City elementary schools, T.R. Simmons and Memorial Park.

Since 2015, the afterschool program has grown from 20 youth at one school to more than 75 youth at two schools.

The long-term goal is to acquire a building where BGCA can serve students from every area school. The local club has not had a permanent home since Camp Jimmy Goodwin was sold in 2006.

"I think that's why a lot of people don't know about the Boys and Girls Club. We move around. We don't have a centralized building. Since I've worked with them, we've been at Bevill, we've been at Eastside Baptist Church for two years and this past summer we were at Memorial Park School," Crowell said.

Crowell would also like to see the afterschool program expand to serve older youth.

"There is a need for an afterschool program for fourth, fifth and sixth and even seventh and eighth grades who could probably go home and stay alone. It's not the best idea, but I feel like it's what a lot of them do because their parents don't have another option," she said.

The afterschool program, which lasts two and a half hours, includes a meal and a snack, homework help, arts and crafts, character development and recreation. At least an hour is devoted to physical activity.

The summer program, which is open to youth from any community, has grown from 40 participants in 2015 to more than 160 this year.

The camp operates 10 hours a day, five days a week and serves youth up to age 18. New members are not accepted after age 12.

The fee per youth is $325 for the summer. Scholarship funding is also available for youth whose families cannot afford the fees.

While most kids choose to leave the program after age 12, Crowell's goal is to convince some teenagers to stay involved as junior staff and become BGCA Youth of the Year nominees in the next few years.

Approximately 90% of youth who remain active with BCCA progress to the next grade level on time and the same percentage become engaged with at least one extracurricular activity at their school. They are also guaranteed a safe space where they can stay away from risky activities and form bonds with their peers.

"A lot of these kids don't feel like they belong at school. They're not in sports or band. They don't really belong anywhere. A big thing for us is trying to make sure everyone is included and finds a niche in the summer," Crowell said.

In addition to seeking office space for the local unit, Crowell is also seeking volunteers for a new advisory council.