Ridgefield Boys & Girls Club opens before school program; undergoes major expansion

RIDGEFIELD — With 45 students already enrolled, the town’s Boys and Girls Club’s Before School program opened its doors for the first time Tuesday morning.

Mike Flynn, the club’s chief executive officer, said while the club — a nonprofit youth activity center open since1936, this is the first time in the history of the town that it will be open to children before school.

The program, at 41 Governor St. where the club is located, is now open from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. for Ridgefield kindergarten to fifth graders who attend elementary school at Barlow Mountain, Farmingville and Veterans Park. Those are the three “late start” elementary schools in town.

“We run programs in health, fitness and recreation, which, in the before school setting, largely encompasses gym games, phys ed games, and movement,” Flynn said.

Additionally, just like its after school program, the club offers arts and crafts activities.

“We have an art studio downstairs, which will be open for activity very similar to the after school crew,” he said.

He added education is a big component of the club.

“We have an education room open for reading but it will be also an area for quiet time — kids to work on studying, kids to read or catch up on homework,” he said.

Additionally, the club will be incorporating STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities into its morning program — just like in its after school program.

In the mornings, children get dropped off to the program from their homes. Then, prior to school starting, students who attend Farmingville and Barlow Mountain schools will be taken there by bus while students who attend Veterans Park school will be walked by club staff members to their school.

The need

Flynn said the club, which opened the program in partnership with Ridgefield Public Schools, did so to meet a need of parents in town.

“The had a pretty sophisticated study go out to all the elementary aged parents and got good feedback that this would be a program that would fit a need in the community,” Flynn said. “We were contacted by (the school) in March or April of last school year.”

He added the club has always worked extremely close with Ridgefield schools.

“We are an extension of the schools in some ways,” he said. “We're a private nonprofit, but we're certainly very aligned with the public schools we serve.”

The club’s after school program serves 250 to 300 kids a day in grades 1 to 12. There are also evening programs for high school students, and 400 kids a day attend the summer camp.

Flynn said the before school program will be a pilot this year, as Ridgefield Public Schools and the club evaluate the need for it in the future.

He added, though, he thinks the program is here to stay.

“We feel like we're in this for the long haul,” he said. “I see it being something that will evolve and grow, so that's our hope.”

Ridgefield school superintendent Susie DaSilva said, “even though there's not the enrollment that we expected, it's still an opportunity for families.”

She added she’s “really excited Flynn and the club are “giving this the chance that it deserves. I'm hopeful that, over the course of the next few months, other families will recognize the benefit and hopefully jump on board if they need it.”

Expansion

The Boys & Girls Club is also undergoing a major expansion.

"Right now, the clubhouse is a little bit short of 20,000 square feet,” Flynn said. “We're putting on about 11,000 — so, essentially, doubling the program space.”

Construction for the expansion began Aug. 22, right after summer camp ended. Flynn said he hopes it will be completed by June of 2023.

He said while all the kids in the club will use different pieces of all the facilities like they currently do, the club’s older kids need more space. The new wing of the building will serve primarily the club's sixth through twelfth grade students.

There’s been a need for an expansion due to the growth of the club, he added.

"Our membership and daily attendance has grown 15 to 20 percent every year for 15 years. We've more than quadrupled in size in terms of where we were to where we are now. So it's been a growing need every year. Conceptually, we started looking at this probably six, or seven years ago,” he said. “To put it into motion, which was probably 2017, we started to privately raise some money and develop plans. Obviously, with COVID and things like that, there's been some starts and stops. But yeah, it's becoming reality.”

There’s an ongoing capital campaign to assist in funding the expansion. For information on the campaign, visit bgcridgefield.org and click “Donate to the Growth Campaign.”