The Grenville Baker Boys and Girls Club in Locust Valley recently got a major facelift, and the improvements to its facility will help facilitate a better future for its students and equip staff and volunteers to accomplish that goal.
The club fully reopened its doors on Monday, Sept. 13 and officially on Thursday, Sept. 17 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The $10 million renovation project added 8,000 square feet to the 42,000 square foot facility.
The process, according to Melissa Rhodes, Club Director of Programs and Professional Development, has been years in the making. In the last two years, the club has operated out of different churches and buildings in Locust Valley and Bayville to provide after school services to kindergarten through fifth-graders.
These days, the club provides help to 160 to 170 students in the state-of-the-art facility. What was once a small building 71 years ago that was no bigger than a one-room schoolhouse, now is a place where kids can run free in an expansive playground and ball fields, learn dance lessons in the facility’s dance studio, play basketball in the gym, shoot pool in the rec room, get homework help in one of the many classrooms and explore their passions in STEM labs and creative skills in art rooms.
“We’re really focused on the whole child,” Rhodes said about the many programs offered.
Rhodes said the club is looking to “prepare kids for the 21st century” when they come to the club after school is done for the day.
As the building is opening up, and the pandemic is shifting into a different phase, the club hopes to bring back tried and true programs that take advantage of the space, like dance programs and sports leagues. Rhodes hopes they can introduce new programs to high school students like bringing them on college tours and assisting them with the FAFSA process as well.
Walking through the facility, it’s clearly noticeable where renovations have been made, both big and small. In some areas, all that was needed was a fresh coat of paint. In others, an entire new wing was added to accommodate more activities.
Maroni’s Kitchen, named after club alumnus Mike Maroni, features new cooking appliances that students can use to learn to make dishes and desserts. Something as simple as changing the location of the main entrance to the side of the building was intentional too. Rhodes said it creates a better flow for drop-offs and pickups with students and parents, and it eliminates the need for parents to walk throughout the building to pick their child up.
With COVID, the club faced some challenges, but were able to still offer services. They were shut down from March to June 2020 (like most places in the world), but the timing lined up perfectly, Rhodes said, with construction on the Grenville Baker facility. There were naturally fewer students at the club everyday in their makeshift setups, so having around 50 students made social distancing easier.
Now back in its permanent location, the club is maximizing the time it has during the afternoon because of COVID protocols.
This means trying to make sure students can play outside a lot so they can roam free in the building, for example. With about four hours of time spent with the students, making sure they get a comprehensive experience is important.
The major renovation project was funded by the help of donors with whom the club has relationships.
Because of COVID, the club had to think outside of the box to raise money and keep the renovations going, Rhodes said.
One type of relationship that has been beneficial to help raise money for the project is with club alumni.
Just ask Rhodes, she would know as someone who was raised in the Grenville Baker Boys and Girls Club.
“This was my home away from home” growing up with a single mom who worked two jobs, she said. “It’s amazing to be back here and keep that same magic that it’s had for 71 years.”
She noted the strong bonds that she and other alums hold with one another long after they’ve grown out of the program.
“Once you’re a club kid, you’re always a club kid,” she said.
As the Director of Programs and Professional Development for the club, she wants to make sure the kids in the program today have the same positive experience she had growing up.
With the new features in the building, it seems like that’s happening every day for the kids.
“A lot of times, they don’t want to leave when parents come to pick them up,” she said.
Going forward, the club is looking for volunteers to able to expand its programs, as well as filling positions and seeking out donors to help fund ongoing projects for the building.
“Our community is stronger because of this organization,” Rhodes said.