Bywater `cornerstone' returns

Boys & Girls Club that serves thousands of youths to reopen after renovations

December 12, 2007|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,sun reporter

New computers donated by the state comptroller's office sit side-by-side in the teen center at the Boys & Girls Club of Anne Arundel County at Bywater, which is also adorned with a big-screen TV and two couches.

The adjoining game room, its walls painted bright hues of red, yellow and blue, is filled with the luxuries of an arcade: a pingpong table, a pool table and an air hockey table, which was donated by the Bay Area Community Church in Annapolis.

The donations and renovations to the building - including a new ceiling, floor, bathrooms, paint, windows, light fixtures and a rear deck - will be unveiled to the public today during a rededication ceremony from 6 to 8 tonight at the club, 1903 Copeland St. The club sits among the Bywater Mutual Homes community in Annapolis.

"I grew up in this club," said Leonard Brown, the club's program director, who attended programs there throughout his childhood. "It means a lot to me. It means a lot to this neighborhood. It's a dream of mine and a dream of a lot of the alumni to see this place renovated. It actually happened."

The club serves about 7,000 young people ages 6 to 18, most of whom live in the Bywater Mutual Homes community, a publicly subsidized townhouse complex that surrounds the club.

The community's management company funded the renovations, Boys & Girls Club officials said.

A representative from Bywater was not available to comment yesterday.

"It's kind of like almost a cornerstone in the community," Brown said. "It kept me out of trouble. It was a great place, growing up. There's so much to do here. The people you meet ... the benefits are outstanding."

The club, which offers programs in leadership development and computer technology, closed early last year for the renovations.

The youths attended the Boys & Girls Club at Wiley H. Bates Heritage Park in Annapolis in the interim.

In addition to its small staff, the Bywater club sustains itself with an army of volunteers, many of whom are students at the high school at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Annapolis.

Angela Nassar, whose daughter and son tutored students at the club during high school, has volunteered at the club for the past two years.

She tutors children and provides meals.

"There's a huge need for donations. These kids really need help, especially in the Bywater. We help them with homework. We play with them. We feed them. I put an ad in our church bulletin a month ago, and I had 100 people step up to give."

Donna DeCesaris and her husband, who live in Lothian, cook dinners for the club's patrons. Lasagna, she said, is a favorite request.

"The kids are really great," DeCesaris said. "We love to cook, so that seems to be a great outreach to do. My understanding is, sometimes, that's the only meal those kids get."

Yesterday, Brown and Rondell Williams, a program assistant at the club, were applying the finishing touches - such as erecting furniture - in anticipation of today's opening.

Williams, who had worked at the city-run recreation center at the Robinwood housing development, is planning to start a program for the club's young men, called "Passport to Manhood."

He said working at the club will give him an opportunity to be a role model for children whose fathers aren't in their lives. He said it's a role he relishes.

"I love working with kids. I grew up without my dad. ... Now I have two boys. So it makes me really, really aware of what a dad's supposed to do. A lot of these kids don't have a father."

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