BELLOWS FALLS >> More than 50 children no longer have a place to gather for activities after school since the Board of Directors of the Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro made the decision to discontinue after-school clubhouse operations. After serving the community for over a decade, the board made the decision to close its doors on June 7 in Bellows Falls due to the "Loss of significant grant support and over-all operational expenses," according to Board President Marcia Steckler.
"We did not want to do this, we simply don't have the money. We can't fund this operation without a significant amount (of funding)," said Steckler. "I wish we could fund it, we're not happy about it and as board president it's heart breaking to know there's a need for these young people, especially when I hear about the positive impact our staff has had for club members and to know we can't be there for them as an operational club is heartbreaking."
By a unanimous vote the board made this decision after looking at the club's finances and reviewing the official Operating Standards for Clubs and Extension Clubs of the Boys and Girls Club. According to Steckler, as a nationally affiliated Boys and Girls Club, they must be in compliance with all the standards. The board concluded the club is not in a financial position to operate the Bellows Falls branch at this time. According to the standards, a club must have at least 50 active members, and Steckler said the club in Bellows Falls was on the cusp of that with 54 members. She notes enrollment declined from 100 members when the clubhouse moved from the YMCA location to above Merchants Bank in 2014.
In addition to space expenses, under these standards the club must also maintain sufficient paid and volunteer staff qualified in "personality, character, experience, education and training for the leadership and guidance of its members." All activities must be supervised by the staff. As for activities, the club was obliged to make them available to its members at least 10 months per year, five days per week and four hours per day.
"The economy has not allowed businesses and foundations to be as generous," said Steckler. "Plus the disappearance of Vermont Yankee (nuclear power plant in Vernon) has hurt everyone. This is not new. We're not the only organization dealing with this."
The grants The Boys and Girls Club had received used to cover its operating costs and according to Steckler, some past benefactors have sent less or nothing in recent years.
Steckler noted that every employee that was working at the Bellows Falls club has been offered positions of employment in Brattleboro. She also noted that at this point there is no capital plan for a new facility in Bellows Falls, at least not a Boys and Girls Club space. However, she said they are open to continuing the conversation around the youth in the Greater Falls area.
"We're not walking away from Bellows Falls, we're walking away from an operational arrangement," said Steckler.
The organization notified the families of members about this decision and has provided suggestions regarding other services available for young people in the Bellows Falls community. Club members from the Greater Falls area will remain eligible to participate in club initiatives available through units at Westgate in West Brattleboro and at club headquarters on Flat Street in Brattleboro. Steckler noted no transportation arrangements from Bellows Falls to Brattleboro have been made at this time.
"I have heard people who have worked directly with young people in the Bellows Falls community say they have seen tremendous change in the trajectory of some young people's lives. Those that have been touched by the club have gone in a direction more positive, and have increased their overall self engagement and well being," said Steckler.
The organization currently has more than 1,100 youth members and serves some 2,500 young people who are not members but access the programs. According to a press release from Steckler and Interim Executive Director Rick Davis, "The Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro will continue to focus its resources on its core mission: to enable all young people in the Brattleboro area, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens."
"My hope is that the Greater Falls community will realize the incredible potential of the young people in that community and will find ways to support a broad range of after-school activities and meaningful summer activities to engage the young people of that community," said Steckler. "I believe that if people realize the depth and breadth of the need, that they will do their best to find a way to meet those needs because everyone in the community deserves an opportunity to realize their full potential."
There will be one more club activity in Bellows Falls for club members that is scheduled for June 17. The Club will vacate its current rental space on the Square by the end of the month.
In addition, on June 22, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Greater Falls Connections in conjunction with former acting director of the Boys and Girls Club of Bellows Falls, Hailee Galandak, will hold a community meeting at the Rockingham Town Hall, Bellows Falls Opera House Lower Theater in response to the closure of the Bellows Falls branch of the Boys & Girls Club. They will discuss the possible creation of a new program for youth. RSVP by Monday, June 20 to Scott Sharland, Program Specialist, Greater Falls Connections, email@example.com, or 802-463-9927 ext 213.
Steckler noted the Board is grateful to the Holt Fund and to Boys & Girls Clubs of America for grants provided in support of club programs in Bellows Falls over the years.
Beth Baldwin, the former executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro, resigned last month, a position which she held for the past seven years. In a previous statement from Steckler, she said Baldwin "helped us diversify our grant funding and that has been very important for us."
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 275.