Building a future in Ferguson

Building a future in Ferguson

The St. Louis Boys & Girls Club of Greater St. Louis broke ground Sept. 13 on a $12.4 million Teen Center of Excellence in Ferguson

By Charlotte Beard

Depending on the decade in which you were born, you will recall the existence of certain television programming that was an extension of classroom education or character grooming for childhood years. Some of those shows no longer exist, such as “The Electric Company,” “Letter People,” and “Zoom” (70s series).

And though there is a decline of some school programs or organizations that once offered additional mentoring to youth, one St. Louis establishment celebrated a milestone of 50 years in 2017 and is looking to expand its community presence within the next two years. The St. Louis Boys & Girls Club of Greater St. Louis has a total of 10 club locations, and broke ground Sept. 13 on a $12.4 million Teen Center of Excellence in Ferguson. The new site will be constructed by KAI Design & Build on the grounds of the former Ferguson Ponderosa off West Florissant. Arcturis is the architect for the project.

“We’re part of the federation of Boys & Girls Club of America which has a long history in meeting the needs of children and teens, particularly those that have the greatest need,” stated Dr. Flint Fowler, President. “So, we’re not afraid to tackle challenging situations. We believe we have the programs and experiences in place to work with any child (whether) they have a great home environment (or) they don’t have a great home environment. If they have access to excellent education (or) if they attend schools that are challenged, our goal is to supplement and augment what they’re experiencing to help them connect with things that are going to make them successful long-term.”
Currently, Ferguson Middle School is one of the 10 locations for their club. It has weekend and summer hours, a teen center, and it provides meals. The current goal is to make the Teen Center open to ages 12 – 18.
Fowler said, “Our original plan was to build a traditional Boys & Girls Club in Ferguson serving ages six – 18. We started out in the middle school and we had such good success there that we kept that operation with the goal of starting the Teen Center. (Most) children who attend that middle school will be of age, so they can come to the Teen Center. We’re trying to decide now whether it makes more sense to continue operating both sites separately or to combine those operations.”
The organization will recruit staff for the new site as well as allow current employees to apply for open positions.
“We see this has a chance to create new jobs,” shared Fowler, “particularly if we can target individuals who live in those communities surrounding the center, and a way to provide promotions and/or additional responsibilities for current staff members. There were limited opportunities around the Ferguson/Florissant School District, around the Riverview Garden School District, Normandy and Jennings schools. Given the rioting and the upheaval that occurred after Michael Brown was killed it became more evident that this was part of the county that was in desperate need of additional services. So, with that in mind and checking with the appropriate people, we realized this was a great spot to plant our youth development services and a great way to meet the needs of a good number of young people who for the most part did not have other options.”
To complete the building project of the Teen Center, the organization has launched a public fundraising campaign called “A Place to Become.” Donations are accepted online by visiting https://www.bgcstl.org/campaign.
Fowler shared, “The full goal is $25 million and of that (goal), $12.4 million has been set aside for the Teen Center construction and three years of operating revenue. Once you build the Teen Center you (must) have the lights turned on, gas and people that are working there. So, it’s important to not only build a state-of-the-art facility but also be able to fund its operation for a couple of years while we keep the fundraising going.”
The rest of the funding would be spread to other parts of the community.
“Another portion of that money has gone to operate our school-based locations—two of those in the Ferguson/Florissant district (which are) the Ferguson Middle School, and Lee Hamilton Elementary School. The third site is Highland Elementary School which is in the Riverview Garden School District, a neighboring community. Both of those communities were impacted during the riots in August 2014. The additional amount is being used to support on-going operations where we consider sustainability. We’re trying to raise money to add to our endowment that would generate additional resources in the future, based on the earnings from that fund that could go towards paying operating costs,” Fowler said.
Programming for the 26,856 square feet facility will include an emphasis on health and wellness (yoga, healthy habits, open gym, etc.), education and workforce development (college tours, ACT/SAT prep, tutoring, etc.), STEAM (coding, app creation, robotics) and leadership and civic engagement (fine and performing arts, community service, applied arts).

“What really takes place as young people are participating in these programs and services,” stated Fowler, “is that they’re acquiring new skills as they get some insight into career opportunities, participate in summer jobs and work readiness. So as a program, the power is really in the relationships that are formed between the club members and staff and volunteers that work directly with them. I think most people can reflect on their upbringing; there’s one or two maybe four people that’s really impacted their lives. It could have been a teacher, coach, or a scout leader – someone that really helped to encourage them to move forward. That person was there to support them if they made a mistake, pick them back up, dust them off and encourage them to get back in the saddle. So, the programs and activities are important in that they help young people to prepare for their future. But we’re placing just as much emphasis on the quality of staff people and volunteers that we bring to the center to interact with our young people.”
Amenities of the three-level facility will include a nutrition education center, outdoor garden, gym, intellectual commons, teen lounge, auditorium, outdoor basketball and activity court, music and art studio, office space and innovation center.
For more information on the 2019/20 school year project completion, visit www.bgcstl.org/campaign.
CUTLINE: Submitted photos
Cover-Center 1-2 These artistic renderings show the completed Teen Center of Excellence in Ferguson.
Cover-Center 3-4 The St. Louis Boys & Girls Club of Greater St. Louis broke ground Sept. 13 on a $12.4 million Teen Center of Excellence in Ferguson. The new site will be constructed on the grounds of the former Ferguson Ponderosa off West Florissant.