Boys & Girls Clubs grow: More than $4 million raised in $6 million campaign

Lauren Slavin, Bloomington Herald-Times | April 2, 2016


There’s a chain-link fence surrounding an empty field just across the street from the sign at the corner of North Monroe and West 12th streets that marks the entrance to the Crestmont community.

The 243 children who live in the Bloomington Housing Authority’s Crestmont homes already play in the field, said Leslie Abshier, resource development director for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Bloomington. More than 700 local kids live within a 15-minute walk of the area.

But in the duplex the Boys and Girls Club operates out of in the neighborhood, only about 40 kids can access the club’s services daily.

“At this point, they’re spilling out of that building,” Abshier said. “They’ve literally overgrown the building.”

The kids the Boys and Girls Club wants to reach already come to the field. All that’s left to do is build a Boys and Girls Club there.

On Friday, the United Way agency announced that the nonprofit has raised $4.2 million of a $6 million capital campaign to build a new 20,000-square-foot club in the Crestmont neighborhood, complete with a gymnasium.

“These are the kids that need us the most,” said Jeff Baldwin, executive director of Boys and Girls Clubs of Bloomington. “An increasing number of kids need our support to reach their potential. Being able to be right there in their backyard (with a bigger facility) makes so much sense.”

The funds also will be used to remodel the Boys and Girls Clubs’ iconic Lincoln Street building to better fit the needs of its current programs.

Through several large donations from individuals and corporations, the nonprofit has met 70 percent of its fund-raising goal. A substantial donation from former Boys and Girls Club board member Tony Kenworthy and his wife, Sharon, kick-started the campaign, and the nonprofit hopes to complete fundraising by the end of this year and break ground on the new facility this summer.

Since 1990, the Crestmont club has offered inexpensive after-school and summer break care for children who live in Bloomington’s nearby public housing. Annual club membership costs $5, compared with the $20 annual membership at the Lincoln Street or Ellettsville clubs.

Though it’s only located across town, Crestmont club members live in a completely different world than their peers in the Lincoln Street building, Baldwin said. In 2014, The Herald-Times reported that 70 percent of students living in the Crestmont neighborhood read below their grade level, and 60 percent of students living in Crestmont will not graduate from high school.

Some years, all of the Crestmont club members come with many siblings from single-parent households, Baldwin said.

“It’s just the culture that they know,” Baldwin said. “Parents will not send their kids to the club, because it’s not part of the family culture.”

The new Crestmont Boys and Girls Club will be able to provide transportation from area schools, and the building on North Monroe Street will be close enough for kids to safely walk home. And club enrollment can expand from 40 members to 160.

“This makes it very easy for parents,” Baldwin said. “We’re about as affordable as you can get.”

Boys and Girls Club’s administrative offices also will be co-located with the Crestmont club at the former location of the Indiana University Eye Clinic, which the nonprofit purchased and is renovating for about $1 million. Catholic Charities, a nonprofit organization that provides mental health services, is renting part of that space for its offices.

“We’re very excited to explore all the ways we can work together,” Baldwin said.

Though it’s open all year, Baldwin noted that the Boys and Girls Clubs are busiest during after-school hours. Rather than let the new club sit empty when boys and girls are doing other things, the club could be used as a community center to provide additional services to those with the most need.

“To just look at it as a Boys and Girls Club is very narrow sighted,” Baldwin said. “We want to do something that will play a major role in helping the community.”

The first home of the Boys and Girls Club won’t be forgotten. The Lincoln Street unit, built in 1928 as an armory, hasn’t been updated since the late 1980s. The 17,000-square-foot building is a drain on resources, Baldwin said, and needs its roof replaced, foundation drainage installed and mechanical system repaired.

Abandoning the Lincoln Street building, however, wasn’t a possibility. The building’s proximity to IU is a major reason for its strong volunteer base, Baldwin said. If volunteers and interns needed to be replaced with staff members who were paid minimum wage, Baldwin estimates that the Boys and Girls Club’s annual budget would increase $250,000.

“It’s a great, historic building,” Abshier said. “The location, we couldn’t find anywhere else.”

Outside renovations of the Lincoln Street building to repair the structure while maintaining its historic look could also begin this summer.

By the fall, the nonprofit hopes to have enough of the Crestmont club completed to bring in new members at the start of the new school year. Eventually, the Lincoln Street club will have to be closed for total inside renovations, including upgrading the gymnasium and structuring floor plans to better accommodate current programs.

While the Lincoln Street Club is closed, members will be bused to the newer Crestmont location. The staff will have to increase, and so will Boys and Girls Club’s operating budget, which has already grown from $360,000 in 2006 to $1.2 million today.

“It’ll be a tall challenge for the staff,” Baldwin said.

Herald-Times editor Bob Zaltsberg contributed to this story