Club to expand

MILFORD – Even before the opioid epidemic hit New Hampshire hard, officials at the Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan Valley knew they needed to do more for teens. The club serves almost 900 children, and many of them come after school each day. But unless they’re involved in the theater program, the kids tend to drop out by the time they’re in eighth grade. Almost all of the high school-age teens who come are volunteers.

"It breaks my heart to see them just disappear," club director Susan Taylor said. Teens leave, she said, because there isn’t enough for them to do at the club and because they want to feel like young adults, not children who need to be watched over. But they still need somewhere to go where they can be with their peers and caring adults. During a community needs forum a few years ago, "We heard that kids need more positive role models, and we heard that families are under a lot of stress," Taylor said.
A year ago, the board of directors made a commitment to a "huge undertaking," said member Bob Heaton, adding a high schoolsize gymnasium and teen center to the building on Mont Vernon Street. "We are one of the few Boys & Girls Clubs in the country with no gymnasium," Taylor said. "We realized we needed a teen center and a separate entrance" so that high school students can feel the club is designed for young adults and is open evenings or weekends. At the club’s annual awards ceremony last week, Mike Tule, president of the board of directors, announced the launch of a capital campaign to raise the balance of the money needed. ­

The addition will also allow the club to renovate and reconfigure its spac­es, which have become too small. Membership has in­creased by more than 200 percent over the last de­cade, and 177 kids on av­erage come here each day.

There will be a new academic center, a new computer lab, space for STEM activities, an early education center and a new music room. The the­ater lobby, now used as the homework room, will be renovated so it can be used for rehearsals.

A full-size gym, with a rubberized floor, will give the kids room to run around and practice their skills, said Taylor, who expects that within three years of operation, the ex­panded facility will serve more than 1,200 kids.

"The goal is not to com­pete with high school sports and the MCAA," she said of the Milford Community Athletic As­sociation, but to offer a space for pickup basket­ball games, volleyball and floor hockey, and hope­fully expose kids to sports who have never gotten in­volved before.

Serving teenagers is go­ing to take more money. Parents pay for the club’s services, though there are needs-based scholar­ships. But the directors realize that teens aren’t going to come if there is an admission charge, so continuing costs will be covered by the club .

Plans call for a video-game room and a kitch­enette as part of the 2,500-square-foot teen center next to the gym, and teens will be involved in planning the space.

The new addition will have a separate entrance.

Last month, the board quietly started a fund­raising campaign that is now in full swing. It has raised two-thirds of the $2.1 million cost of the 13,700-square-foot addi­tion and plans to break ground next month, with an opening expected in late October.

"People are responding very, very positively," Tay­lor said.

The club started small in the 1990s, using the National Guard Armory and Granite Grange, and then a storefront at Gran­ite Town Plaza. In 2004 ,it got a big boost when the Amato family donated the American Stage Festival building and property.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.