A new club in town — Wakeman opens expanded facility

Published on July 31, 2011 by

For years, it had been a dream of Burroughs Community Center Executive Director Kevin Simmons to expand the facility to better serve more children in the Black Rock neighborhood and throughout the city of Bridgeport.

Simmons tried everything and was successful at most levels. He chased numerous grants and often traveled to the Statehouse in Hartford to plead his case. The Burroughs Center had a number of successful fundraisers, including the famed “Freezin’ For A Reason,” an event that saw hundreds of lunkheads, I mean daredevils, raise money by plunging into Long Island Sound in the middle of February.

Still, the dream remained out of reach until members of the local business community stepped up and pledged money for the project, particularly lead philanthropist Joel Smilow of Westport.

Now a brand new facility stands adjacent to the Burroughs Community Center, and its official ribbon cutting ceremony was held two weeks ago.

Officials from the Wakeman Boys & Girls Club joined residents from the West End and Black Rock to celebrate the long awaited grand opening of the new $7 million Wakeman Boys & Girls Smilow-Burroughs Clubhouse. The unique urban-suburban partnership has created a new clubhouse that will bring Boys & Girls Clubs of America programs to more than 1,000 Bridgeport children in grades three through 12.

Attending the celebration were Simmons; Smilow; Glen Staron, regional vice president, Boys & Girls Clubs of America; Mayor Bill Finch; Dick Galvin, chairman of Wakeman Boys & Girls Club board of trustees; John P. Donahue, M.D., president of Wakeman Boys & Girls Club board of directors; Joe Flatley, president and CEO of Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation; Michael LaBella, market president for Connecticut TD Bank; Felipe Lopez, one of the best basketball players ever to come out of Saint John’s University; and hundreds of community well-wishers.

“With this grand opening and ribbon cutting, our work is just beginning,” explained David W. Blagys, executive director of the Wakeman Boys & Girls Club. “Our challenge now becomes raising the funds necessary to continue providing quality programs for the many generations to come.”

The state-of-the-art Smilow-Burroughs Clubhouse is a 23,000-square-foot building featuring a nearly 8,000-square-foot gymnasium with seating for 250, a teen center, game room, arts and science center, technology center, community room, two learning centers, a café and kitchen, and a fitness studio for dance, yoga and other exercise programs. Boys & Girls Clubs of America programming focuses on five areas including education and career development, character and leadership development, the arts, health and life skills, and sports, fitness and recreation.

Natalia Kembaren, a 12-year-old Bridgeport resident, shared her excitement about the new clubhouse. “Camp just started and I’ve already played in the game room, been active in the gym and outside, let out my creative side in the theater, and just hung out with my friends,” she said. “I am so thankful to everyone who helped make this clubhouse a reality for me and the other members. Yesterday in art class, we learned that ‘Be Great’ is the motto of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.”

Finch was particularly excited that the center is an entirely green building, designed to meet strict environmental standards. The clubhouse was designed and constructed to meet Leadership in Energy & Environment certification from the U.S. Green Building Council and efforts are under way to apply for LEED Gold certification.

The design is entirely in tune with the mayor’s goal to make Bridgeport the greenest city in Connecticut.

The sustainable building includes solar panels, a “green” floor, 100 percent recycled subfloor, and a high-energy efficiency heating, venting and air conditioning system, among other features. Additionally, more than 80 percent of the debris taken from the premises during renovation was recycled. From a design standpoint, great care was taken to ensure that natural sunlight could reach the children and staff who use interior rooms of the building by strategically aligning the exterior and interior windows.

The technology center features 24 new desktop computers, 15 of which were made possible by a donation from the LeBron James Foundation.
The Wakeman Boys & Girls Club raised $7 million through a capital campaign to fund the design, construction and first year of operation for the new facility. Smilow jumpstarted the fundraising for the construction of the building with a $1.5 million donation. The annual operating budget for the new clubhouse is $600,000, all of which will be raised through private donations and grants.

  • The neighborhood demographics demonstrate why the new facility is particularly important to Black Rock and the West End:
  • 2,500 children live within one-half mile of the new clubhouse
  • English is not the first language spoken in 36 percent of the homes
  • More than 65 percent of households are led by a single mother
  • Nearly 60 percent of the families live below the poverty line

To make a tax-deductible donation, checks made payable to Smilow-Burroughs Clubhouse may be sent to David Blagys, Wakeman Boys & Girls Club, P.O. Box 118, Southport, CT 06890.