Westminster Boys & Girls Club set to expand

Image by Olivia Storer

The word “Welcome” hangs from the roof in rainbow letters just inside the doors of the Westminster Boys & Girls Club. The halls are silent and empty, but in a few hours around 100 pairs of feet belonging to some of Westminster’s youngest residents will tramp through the doors of the Union Street building. From 2:30 p.m. onwards they will have the opportunity to participate in the some of the academic and extracurricular activities that the after school club offers.

If all goes to plan, these feet will be joined by many more when the club opens the doors of its new building on Main Street on Jan. 2.

“When we move to the new building we can take as many as 600 kids,” says Erin Bishop, marketing director of the Westminster Boys & Girls Club. “We won’t do that right off the bat. We’re not totally crazy! Our plan is that we will grow our population by 30% a year.”

The new building is the old PNC bank building on Main Street which, at 21,000 sq. ft., is almost 10 times larger than the current Union Street location.

“We began to look about a year and half ago, when we knew that we were growing to the point that we would need to expand,” Bishop says. “We looked for a long time and eventually we found this old bank building that has been vacant for 6 years. Now we are embarking on a 5-million-dollar capital campaign renovation project.”

The plans for the new club, which is currently a dusty but humming work site, include a 3,200 sq. ft. gymnasium, recording studio, radio station, art room, kitchen, music and dance studio as well as a library that will be sponsored by Penguin Random House.

While renovating the new space to cater to the needs of the kids, the staff at the Boys & Girls Club are also planning to make the most of the remnants of the old bank.

“Next to the radio station, which is really cool, is the old vault from the bank,” says Bishop. “It’s a beautiful old vault and we are turning that into a sound recording studio. So kids will be able to compose and create their own music.”

Bishop and her colleagues at the Boys & Girls Club are certain that this new building will positively impact the after school experience of their members and are also aware of the economic development that they will bring to Main Street.

“We are moving into a part of Main Street where there isn’t a whole lot of economic vitality and we’ll basically bring 400 families a day to Main Street at dinner time,” says Bishop.

McDaniel College has always had strong ties to the Westminster Boys & Girls Club with many students volunteering at the club and mentoring the kids in a variety of programs. The club boasts innovative programs such as Smart Girls and Passport to Manhood programs that both deal with the challenges that face both boys and girls at critical ages.

“The McDaniel volunteers are so instrumental to the success of the program because they are really good role models for our kids,” says Bishop. “A lot of our kids would be first generation college students so we are trying to show them that correlation. Look if you do the work now and you get good grades you can do this; you can go to college too!”.

Miranda Jacobs, a student a McDaniel College who works at the Boys & Girls Club, describes how her time at the club has impacted her life.

“The club has such a diverse population which has allowed me to grow tremendously as a person and a leader,” Jacobs says. “The relationships I’ve made and the lives I feel like I have impacted make it all worth it! The new club will allow for the kids to explore and express themselves in ways that we can’t at our location now.”

For many years Greek life organizations at McDaniel have worked alongside the Boys & Girls Club and will continue to help the club as it raises money for this project. McDaniel fraternity Phi Delta Theta has run fundraisers for the club over the past few years.

“We run an annual bowl-a-thon for the Boys & Girls Club to help them raise money for things they may need and last year we also hosted a field day for them,” says Tory Cook, the philanthropy fundraising and recruitment chair of Phi Delta Theta. “We work with them because we know they do great things for the kids of the community and we as a fraternity also believe that kids are the future.”

The McDaniel community is getting behind the project, and Bishop believes that it is important that the greater Westminster Community recognize the importance of the campaign and do what they can to help. She hopes that this project can combat the drug problem that has troubled Westminster for many years.

“We as the Boys & Girls Club looked at what’s happening here in Westminster and we said what can we do to make a difference and what we can do is we can save the kids,” says Bishop. “We can take the kids and we can give them all of the tools that they need to create a path to a great future. That’s the Boys & Girls Clubs motto; great futures start here and it’s going to take every single person in this community to make it happen.”