Boys & Girls Club awaits word on new, bigger headquarters

The Boys & Girls Club of Milford is growing in more ways than one.

The after-school organization, which has been in Milford five years, is running its first summer program for Milford youths this year, hosting 90 local children at West Shore Middle School.

That’s one sign of growth.

Perhaps a bigger sign is the fact that the club is looking for new headquarters, having outgrown the West Shore Recreation building it has occupied since coming to Milford.

Executive Director Megan Altomare couldn’t say where on Milford’s west side the club is hoping to move. That’s still hush hush. But she said she should know very soon if the larger accommodations will be made available. If that happens, the club plans to embark on a capital campaign to turn the building into its new club.

“When I started in 2008, we had 60 kids,” Altomare said. “In 2012, we had 296.”

That’s a growth rate of about five times the initial number, and that’s the reason that the West Shore Recreation building — little more than one large recreation room with smaller rooms attached — just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

The summer program is a sign of how important the program is in Milford, Altomare said as she sat in her temporary office at West Shore Middle School.

The Boys & Girls Club moved its game tables, files and staff from the West Shore Recreation building to the middle school to host the summer program because the Milford Chamber of Commerce uses the recreation building in the summer for its summer camp.

The Boys & Girls Club summer program offers children ages 6 to 16 a place to go in the summer from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. The cost for the entire six weeks is $75. Youths ages 17 and 18 can be junior counselors, and they get a stipend for their work.

“The board worked really hard to make sure that the summer program happened,” Altomare said, explaining that extra fund-raising had to be done to generate the needed dollars.

The ratio is one counselor per 10 children, and the participants can go on field trips, play games in the gym and even get help with their summer school packets in the media center.

Altomare said Boys & Girls Clubs are all about mentoring youth, and that’s why they are so important.

Keldrick Grimes, 6, was playing a wrestling game on the computer on Wednesday morning. He said his favorite thing about the summer program is playing XBox.

Ralphiel DeNigres, 8, said his favorite part is probably hanging out with his friends. The summer program is now in about its third week, and Ralphiel made it clear that there’s always something to do or something to look forward to doing. “I’m going to win the scavenger hunt this afternoon,” he teasingly told one of the counselors.

William Frick, 9, was playing a game called four square, and he explained that four people take turns bouncing a ball clockwise to the person next to them. Lines separate the playing field into four squares, and the goal is to not bounce the ball on the lines or outside of the lines.

William said he likes the summer program because it gives him more to do than he might find at home in the summer. There are friends here to do things with, he said.

Kamijah Wilkes, 10, likes the games. There are board games, as well as foosball, bumper ball and ping pong.

“And there are a lot of people to play with,” Kamijah said.

Like many of the other children at the summer program, Kamijah also goes to the Boys & Girls Club after school program during school months. She’s been coming since she was about six, and she said the staff and other children are now like her outside-of-the-house family.

The Boys & Girls Club board hopes to not only see the club move into a bigger building on the west side of town, members also hope to create a program on the east side of town — one that would be more convenient for families on the Foran High side.

There have been talks about starting an after-school program at Foran High School, but that is only in the talking stage.

Boys & Girls Club Board chairman Jorge Santiago said that while the club has only been in Milford five years, the quick growth indicates there was always a need for it. The club gives children a place to hang out after school, so they aren’t finding inappropriate places to congregate and get in trouble.

Plus, he said, the club offers many helpful and character building programs, like an after-school homework club, money education programs and more.

“It fills a gap,” Santiago said.

Last year the club had to cap membership at about 300 youngsters, and there were nearly 30 youngsters on the waiting list. The club is popular  not only for its offerings, but also for its cost. Membership is $50 a year, and scholarships are provided for families that qualify.

Santiago believes the club will grow even more in a new, bigger building, and with a new after-school program on the east side.

“I’d say that on the east side, we’d probably see the same growth that we saw on the west side,” Santiago said, predicting it might start with 60 to 80 youngsters and then grow to about 300.

Santiago isn’t just the chairman of the board. He’s also a former Boys & Girls Club kid, having attended the Bridgeport program when he was growing up.

“There’s adult supervision, but you still get to be a kid,” he said.

The club hopes to know by next week if it has secured a new location on Milford’s west side.