Seeking to help city youth

Boys & Girls Club works to open in Park Heights

January 31, 2007|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,sun reporter

Launching an effort to raise the profile of the Boys and Girls Club in Baltimore, club officials held a lunch yesterday at a swanky downtown restaurant to garner support to open a center in Park Heights this year.

More than 50 of the city's movers and shakers attended the Capital Grille luncheon hosted by the Boys & Girls Club of Harford County and Neil Katz, CEO of Corridor Reznick LLC, a commercial real estate firm. Katz and the Harford County group split the $2,500 cost of the lunch.

Those who attended included Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation; Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr.; and former Juvenile Services Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr.

The Boys & Girls Club of America has never had a strong presence in Baltimore. The organization operates one center, in partnership with the Salvation Army, in Franklin Square.

"We need to do something about the 120,000 school-age children who don't have anything to do in Baltimore," said David Ross, regional service director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, before the luncheon. "We're hoping to cultivate support from the community so that we can do this and do it right."

National and regional executives said the organization's strong record of success elsewhere can help a city whose large number of youth contending with urban ills are in need of extra support.

"Baltimore is ready for an effective system of Boys & Girls Clubs," said Don Mathis, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Harford County.

The Park Heights center would bolster programs in the city's CC Jackson Recreation Center and would be run in partnership with the city.

Club officials said they are waiting for the city's Department of Recreation and Parks to sign a memorandum of agreement before they start adding programs at the center.

A spokesman for the city's Department of Recreation and Parks said the legal office was reviewing the agreement.

Ross said the Boys & Girls Club would fund additional programs, such as a tech center, and some of its national programs, including an alcohol- and drug-resistance and leadership program.

Across the country, about 4,500 Boys & Girls Clubs serve more than 4 million children.

In Maryland, there are nearly 40 clubs but only one in Baltimore. The former Boys & Girls Club of Central Maryland used to run several clubs in the city but dissolved several years ago, officials said.

Mathis said about $200,000 has been raised for the Park Heights effort and it is hoped that more clubs would be opened or expanded in the near future.

"We're waiting for the city to sign the agreement," he said. "We're ready to advertise and make offers to people."

In addition to national and regional executives, Symone Stewart, a ninth-grader at Aberdeen High School, spoke of her experiences with her local club.

Stewart said she has been going to the Aberdeen Boys & Girls Club for nine years, sneaking in when she was 4. "It's who I am, it's a part of me," said Stewart.

"Many of us don't have any other place to go," she added. "I would not be who I am today without the Boys & Girls Club."

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