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Looking Out for At-Risk Youth in Hot Springs

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- Community advocates hosted a town hall in Hot Springs Monday night to help search for solutions for at-risk youth. 

The Boys and Girls Club of Hot Springs shut down earlier this year, with no other facility like it available to kids in the area. More than a thousand kids went to the community center throughout the year. For many, it was just an after-school program. But for others, like Jalian Gentry, it's what saved their life. 

"We were living in a car at Hollywood Park for two years," explained the 17 year old senior at Hot Springs High School. But even as a kid on the streets, he had a place to call home. 

"I love the Boys and Girls Club," Gentry gushed. After going there for more than a decade, he's convinced he'd be dead or in jail today without it. 

"They kept me busy," he explained. "After school, I went straight there, I played basketball, I did community service." 

After the club shut down earlier this year it left other at-risk kids like Gentry with nowhere else to go. 

"It's really sad," he said. " I mean, they don't understand the impact the Boys and Girls Club can have on a little kid. Because I am one of them." 

According to Willie Wade, founder of advocacy group Difference Makers of Hot Springs, the city does not have an at-risk youth program. 

Champion Christian College is expected to take over the Boys and Girls Club and provide programming soon, but some say it's still not enough. 

"We understand that one center cannot be a one stop shop for this community," Wade explained, hence why he hosted a "Youth in Crisis" town hall Monday night. Local leaders met with activists to shed insight on how to help local at-risk kids. 

"A lot of the kids that end up in juvenile services could have avoided that, had there been intervention and prevention programs in place," he added. 

Monday's town hall group hopes to come up with concrete solutions to lay a foundation for a better Hot Springs that keeps kids from slipping through the cracks.

"More community centers," Gentry asked for. "That's what needs to be done."

Needs identified in Monday's panel will then be shared with Champion College, the new stewards of the now-defunct Boys and Girls Club, to hopefully design their programs around. 

No word yet on when the new Champion Community Center will be up and running. 

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