By Greg Smith - Day staff writer
New London — It was the summer of 2018 when it became clear that the 20-year run of the Boys & Girls Club of Southeastern Connecticut was nearing an end.
The group was displaced from its headquarters with the abandonment of the Thames River Apartments on Crystal Avenue and lost its national affiliation. Money was dwindling and the promise of a new location in the New London school district failed to materialize.
Enter the Salvation Army.
Capt. Jose Borrero, commanding officer of the Salvation Army’s New London Corps, figured his group’s 11 Governor Winthrop Blvd. location was a good fit to host programs for the dozens of youth left in the lurch when the Boys & Girls Club disbanded.
What has emerged is the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club of New London County, a partnership between the two nationally affiliated groups with a focus on serving the city’s at-risk youth. The Salvation Army approved the formation of the new venture in May and the Boys & Girls Club of America approved a charter for the program in June.
The new organization already has 80 kids signed up for its summer program and Borrero has high hopes the numbers will continue to grow. It is the first partnership of its kind in the Salvation Army’s eastern territory, which covers most of the eastern seaboard, though similar partnerships can be found elsewhere in the country.
“We’re making history,” Borrero said. “The goal is to have so many kids, we outgrow this place and start looking for a larger rec center.”
Borrero joined with members of the Boys & Girls Club board of directors on Tuesday to celebrate the partnership in the front of the Winthrop Square Apartments, the previous satellite location for the Boys & Girls Club’s teen programs.
The Salvation Army, which now will run the programs on its own and without need for the Boys & Girls Club board of directors, plans to continue the tradition of separating out its teen programs at a different location. Vesta Corporation, which manages Winthrop Square Apartments, has promised to make space available for future programs that Borrero said could start by year’s end.
For now, programs are run at the Salvation Army’s building on Governor Winthrop Boulevard, where there are a variety of family and emergency assistance programs.
Borrero said more than 20 kids per day, ages 6-13, are showing up five days a week for four hours a day for the youth programming. This month, the Boys & Girls Club is partnering with the New London Historical Society for a summer camp at Shaw Mansion where kids will work with historical society staff over a three-week period to learn about local history and research ancestry and immigration. The camp, funded in part by the Frank Loomis Palmer Fund, will end with an exhibit open to the public.
Regular programming for the youth includes games, educational support, tutoring and homework assistance in partnership with the school district and the city’s recreation department. During the school year, the club will run after-school programs that focus on academic success, healthy lifestyles, character building, citizenship, arts and music.
Boys & Girls Club Board President Beth Hogan said the board had weighed its limited options in the wake of its move out of Thames River Apartments.
Creation of the new Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club was the best of available options and continues the legacy of providing a safe and free place for youth in the community, Hogan said.
The transition was aided by the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut and Recreation Department, which has stored equipment from the former program. Former Boys & Girls Club Chief Executive Officer Catherine Foley said she would be available to help in the transition and called the new organization “a good thing for New London.”