Vergennes Boys and Girls Club Undergoes Major Renovations

Julieanne McGrath, 14, helps Phoebe Raphael, 9, make a pizza.

Addison Independent/Trent Campbell

Julieanne McGrath, 14, helps Phoebe Raphael, 9, make a pizza.

By ALLY MURPHY

VERGENNES — In the past year, the Greater Vergennes Boys and Girls Club has received funding and undergone extensive renovations to improve the overall attendance and quality of its after-school program. At the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, daily club attendance ran between 15 and 18 students ranging from fifth to 12th grade, and total membership was 75. This fall, around two dozen of the club’s 109 members stop in after school on any given day. Students can finish their homework on one of a half-dozen new computers; play table soccer, pool and video games; hang out with their friends; make block prints; or enjoy full meals in a new kitchen.

The existing space for the club was finally renovated in 2016. The board voted in 2015 to provide more opportunities for programs, service and outreach. Grants and donations funded the project and brought together local businesses in their support for the renovation. “We celebrated our grand opening in October 2016 with the unveiling of a fully functional kitchen [and] shower and laundry facilities,” said board chair Jeff Fritz.

Vermont is home to nine Boys and Girls Clubs locations. In addition to greater Vergennes, Burlington, Rutland, and Brattleboro all feature their own clubs. Burlington has three locations and serves more than 250 children daily. Their programs highlight their three core areas, which are Art & Technology, Health & Athletics and Career Readiness & Life Skills. Programs include “Reading Buddies,” where volunteers read one-on-one with a child during after-school hours, and arts-and-crafts programs. The Brattleboro location features a “power hour” Monday through Thursday from 3 to 4 p.m. for homework, in addition to many activities such as an open weight room, a climbing wall, an open music room, and a book/teen group. They also have teen night every Friday from 6 to 11 p.m.

The three Rutland locations each offer after-school programs with homework support, a home-cooked meal every day, a physical fitness/wellness program and an evidence-based program called “Positive Action,” an early-age prevention program. They also have a new teen program, which gives teens a safe and fun place to go on Friday and Saturday evenings. They offer academic support, job training, resume writing, and a program called PREP, which focuses on building healthy relationships. Teens can play basketball and video games and go on weekly field trips.

Prior to the renovations in Vergennes, the club was capable of serving only snacks, but the renovations allow the club to provide 400 full meals a month. It also has its own bathrooms with showers, rather than having to share facilities with other tenants of the building on the corner of School and Green streets. The club now houses a washer and dryer, which are used not only for club kitchen linens but also for members who need help cleaning clothes. The space itself is also much more inviting and has undergone improvements in terms of smell and lighting. Newly hired executive director Jill Strube has had an instrumental role in the improvement. Using her experience as an after-school program head, Strube was able to help provide programming, write grants, and oversee the general day-to-day functioning of the club.

In the past year, the club has received many grants that have allowed them to add new programs. The club recently hosted four printmaking workshops after it and the city’s Creative Space Gallery were jointly awarded a $1,182 Vermont Arts Council grant to have a steamroller press prints in the Kennedy Brothers parking lot on Oct. 14. Some club members’ work will be on display and for sale at the gallery through Friday, along with that of professional artists and Vergennes Union Elementary School students. Another arts class led by Middlebury artist Norma Rollette is routinely held for nine young members and is supported by Elaine Raphael Arts Foundation grant. A bus now brings a half-dozen new Ferrisburgh Central School members to the club, courtesy of a three-year, $2,400 Children’s Trust Fund Grant.

“We are working to expand our STEAM programs. We just received a Best Buy grant to buy tablets so we can teach an App Lab class to our teens, and we are hoping to get funding for some Lego Robotics,” Fritz said. This $7,300 grant from the Williston Best Buy funded eight Samsung tablets that the club will use for a class to teach older members to write code for installing Android apps. Another $5,000 came from the TJ Maxx Foundation to support the club’s ongoing efforts to assist members in completing their homework. Strube also arranged a donation from local schools of three desktop computers and three Chromebooks for the same purpose.

The club has been very fortunate with finances that have enabled such renovations and improvements. Many investments have paid off, including those in renovations. In addition, a year ago the club decided to stop applying for a $40,000 state tobacco-cessation grant it had earned annually in recent years, as the board decided the application and reporting process was placing too much of a burden on club employees. Even without that source of money, Strube and the board’s fundraising efforts exceeded the club’s annual budget of $178,000 by about $25,000.

In addition to grant-writing, board members have helped increase the total quantity of funds at the club’s disposal. For example, the board joined with local food professionals and the boards of the Bixby Library, Vergennes Partnership and Vergennes Opera House in staging a successful “Eat on the Green” event on Sept. 30, with proceeds benefitting all four nonprofits. Summarizing the renovations and improvements as a whole, Fritz commented, “The club has never before experienced this level of community involvement and support. We consider this an extraordinary accomplishment.”

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Vergennes Boys and Girls Club Undergoes Major Renovations