Boys & Girls Club of Ridgefield seeks community's help to expand its footprint

RIDGEFIELD — Officials from the Boys & Girls Club of Ridgefield held a news conference this week to announce the community phase of its capital “Growth Campaign.” The initiative was established several years ago to identify solutions to address the club’s growing demand.

One of those solutions is a $6.5 million extension that would enable staff to serve twice as many young people on a daily basis. Since 2007 — the last time the facility expanded — the club’s membership base has grown by nearly 300 percent, BGCR CEO Mike Flynn said.

About 70 percent of the project’s funds have already been raised, Flynn added, but he hopes the club can reach its fundraising goal with help from community donors before a shovel goes into the ground.

Project specs

The news conference was held Thursday’s on BGCR’s blacktop where the 11,000 square foot addition will eventually be built. It will house a dedicated teen center for high school students, a middle school lounge, a technology café and an auxiliary gym. Since roughly half of the club’s 3,000 members are sixth- to- 12th-graders, the project is largely geared towards them.

The club plans to expand its resources with new programming “laser-focused” on teen mental health, suicide prevention, gun prevention and substance abuse prevention, Flynn said. They also plan on hiring a certified counselor to provide social services to members and their families if needed.

With the new space, administrators can repurpose the existing clubhouse for programs, educational activities and counseling services and thus engage more members.

“We need to do more for these kids and enhance what we already do well,” Flynn said. “Equity is an intentional focus of the club. … No child is turned away here, and that needs to continue.”

A case for more space

Flynn said operating through the pandemic underscored BGCR’s need for additional space as more families came to depend on its services. In 2020, the club continued to provide support to working parents, particularly on remote learning days, and this summer, it averaged the same number of campers as it did pre-COVID.

“The club was truly challenged during the pandemic, yet it was probably the time it shined the most,” said general campaign chair Christine Carnicelli. “Through the creativity of teachers and leaders here, they ... continued to run programs in any way possible to keep the kids engaged and supported.”

First Selectman Rudy Marconi grew up down the street from the club and regards it as his second home. He supports its expansion for not only the children of Ridgefield, but for children in surrounding communities, as well.

“The Boys & Girls Club can fill a great deal of the voids that kids feel — their philosophy of accepting everyone goes a long way toward (their) development,” he said. “They need the additional space ... to provide the level of care and social education they specialize in and do an excellent job at it. The more square footage they have the more people can feel welcome.”

Help from Hartford

In addition to community contributions, the club is seeking assistance from Hartford to reach its fundraising goal. Earlier this year, state Sen. Will Haskell (D-Westport) and Rep. Aimee Berger-Girvalo (D-Ridgefield) wrote a letter to the state bond commission requesting $2.5 million for the project.

“The money’s been authorized, the legislature has given the stamp of approval, now the governor actually has to sign the check,” Haskell explained. “The staff and ... students made an incredibly compelling chase as to why the bond commission ought to move forward with this authorization, and we’re hopeful this will be under consideration in the future.”

In June, Gov. Ned Lamont visited the facility with other state dignitaries to get a sense of the space and see the club’s impact on the community firsthand. Flynn hopes the request will get approved by the end of the year so construction can finally begin.

“The building committee is still trying to determine a timeline that wouldn’t impact or impede the operation, but right now 2022 is what we’re looking at,” he said. “We’ll be reaching out to folks we need to connect with over the next couple of months, but if anybody can help us … with our mission, we want to talk to them as soon as possible.”

For more information about “The Growth Campaign” or to donate, email Flynn at mflynn@bgcridgefield.org.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com