City youths gain club for fun, learning New Boys & Girls Club in East Baltimore features games, computer center

March 01, 1998|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

Amid the rhythmic pounding of drums from area marching bands, residents of the Pleasant View Gardens in East Baltimore yesterday dedicated a new Boys & Girls Club complex that officials hope will become a positive force in the community.

More than a new recreation center, the Boys & Girls Club of Central Maryland says its mission is to enhance personal and educational development for youths ages 6 to 18 with dance classes, games, exercise and other activities.

The new facility also boasts a computer lab, which NBA player and former Dunbar High School star Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues will fund with a $50,000 annual commitment that will pay for staffing, software and educational materials for the lab named in his honor.

"We knew we needed something here more than basketball," said Dr. Frank C. Williams Jr., the club's chief executive officer. "We wanted something different, we wanted an environment where kids could continue to grow and explore between the hours of 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. We're trying to build a sense of community, leadership and responsibility."

Williams, who grew up in public housing in Newark, N.J., said he knows that he faces a daunting challenge because of East Baltimore's high rates of teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency and student truancy.

But through the $3 million center, he said he hopes to influence at least some young people before they go astray. In all, Williams expects the two-story Boys & Girls Club and its 22-person staff of employees and volunteers to serve up to 1,500 members, and as many as 225 each day.

The new 18,000-square-foot facility at 1100 E. Fayette St. marks the latest improvement to the area, once the site of the Lafayette Courts public housing high-rises. The city razed the complex in 20 seconds of flash and dust in August 1995.

In its place, the city has begun work on a 374-unit community, replete with brick townhomes and mid-rise apartment buildings.

Despite the club's opening, challenges remain. Chief among them will be raising the roughly $285,000 needed to operate the center each year, said Paul Shelton, chairman of the club's board and a partner at the law firm Piper & Marbury.

"We're here to teach healthy living," Shelton said. "It's a different philosophy, and it's going to cost some money to fulfill."

Pub Date: 3/01/98

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