“This is where I grew up!” It’s a statement Jeff Kroon, the Club’s Executive Director, has heard 100 times if he’s heard it once. The Jamestown Boys and Girls Club has been the springboard to successful careers, fulfilling lives and good citizens for four generations of Jamestown’s youth. The rest of the statement is, “… So this is where I’ll send my kids too.” The current roster of nearly 2000 young people between the ages of five and 18 proves its popularity.
This year, 2014, marks the 75th year of the Boys and Girls Club’s home in Jamestown, New York. When it was founded by the Jamestown Rotary club in 1939, past United States President Herbert Hoover was the National Director overseeing 400 Clubs. Today, membership tops 4 million in more than 4000 Clubs including 400 BGCA-affiliated Youth Centers on U.S. military installations worldwide and 200 Clubs on Native American lands.
Locally, thousands of citizens are proud alumni of the Jamestown Boys and Girls Club, including well known celebrities Natalie Merchant and Jim Roselle. Past and present members attest to the success of Jeff Kroon’s proudly stated purpose. “We aim to make a positive impact in people’s lives. The Boys and Girls Club is much more than a place to go.”
Jeff Kroon has been with the Jamestown Boys and Girls Club for 29 years. He has seen the Club consistently develop strong character and good citizenship. “After they’ve been here for a while,” Kroon explains, “they get to know who they are supposed to be.” The Club’s staff members (five full-time and 20 to 25 part-time, plus volunteers) help create a comfortable and friendly atmosphere where the leaders can introduce new ideas, a sense of good citizenship, opportunities for character building and leadership, according to Kroon.
The Jamestown Boys Club merged with the Jamestown Girls Club in 1986. The combined Club’s current home at 82 Allen St. in Jamestown began its life in the 19th Century as the Maddox Mansion, home of the family that owned the Maddox Table Company, once a keystone in Jamestown’s industrial community.
Additions and improvements to the Maddox Mansion over the years have created a facility which is unique in Western New York, being the only Boys and Girls Club with a swimming pool and all of the aquatic athletics and recreational opportunities that offers. Another feature only available in Jamestown is the Adult Swim. Adult members can take an early plunge starting at 7 o’clock on weekday mornings, sign up for water aerobics and arthritis swims in the heated pool or even learn to swim during many other daytime hours set aside specifically for adults. Prices are specially designed to be affordable.
The Jamestown Boys and Girls Club also hosts a registered after school program, in partnership with the Jamestown Striders, providing homework assistance, tutoring and computer aided educational activities. Students are able to sign up for these activities and arrive at the Club by bus after school. Volunteers for these and other programs include students from Jamestown Community College, Jamestown Business College, Jamestown High School and interested citizens from across the community.
Club activities include swimming, use of a well-equipped gym, arts and crafts, a game room and well supervised community spaces for young people to gather and talk and simply get together. Annual membership is $15.
“We make a special effort to work with challenged kids,” Kroon says. “Some children don’t have the kind of environment and surroundings they can find here. This is a positive place for them and we see extremely little in the way of bad behavior. In the rare instance that we have to ask a young person to step away for a while, we help it to become a learning experience. Very quickly someone usually gets a phone call, ‘Can I come back in? Please?’ The kids help each other learn good citizenship.”
Though the Club offers many structured activities, Kroon says the unstructured, free time for socializing and camaraderie creates a “neighborhood” atmosphere and a family feeling.
Proof that the Boys and Girls Club’s approach to character building is a positive one might be found among its more than 150 National Hall of Fame alumni. Success stories can be told by people in walks of life as varied as baseball greats, Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson, Motown singer-songwriter, Smokey Robinson, popular vocalist, Jennifer Lopez and Olympic Gold Medalist, Brooke Bennett.
75th Anniversary celebrations will be taking place across Jamestown every month throughout the year. National Boys and Girls Club Week will be celebrated between March 23 and March 29. The Boys Club Alumni Group, including popular local radio program host and original 1939 member, Jim Roselle, will hold their Annual Alumni Picnic in August. September will see a 75th Anniversary Reunion and Open House.
The Winnifred Crawford Dibert Boys and Girls Club of Jamestown invites youth and adults alike to learn more about their activities and unique opportunities by visiting or calling (716) 664-2902 or by stopping by their website, www.bgcjamestown.org.