WATERVILLE — The Alfond Youth Center later this month will celebrate the 90th anniversary of the local Boys & Girls Club, looking back at a history of massive growth as the organization teamed up with other groups and infused millions of dollars into new facilities and programs for area children.
Former U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell, a Waterville native and former club member, will be the keynote speaker for the May 30 event, which is part of the center’s annual Appeal Awards Dinner to raise money for its school program, camp scholarships and Kids’ Kitchen. The kitchen annually serves 40,000 hot meals to children, most of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch, according to Ken Walsh, the Alfond Center’s chief executive officer.
“Our hope is to raise $200,000 that night, which will be matched by the Alfond Foundation,” Walsh said. “It’s double the amount raised last year.”
The Alfond Youth Center, which comprises both the YMCA and Boys & Girls Club, serves 1,000 children a day at its 126 North St. center. The center is the only one in the country that houses both a YMCA and Boys & Girls Club under one roof, according to Walsh, and the Boys Club is the largest in the country.
Walsh said the Alfond Center’s mission is the same mission the local Boys Club had when it started in 1924 and eventually merged with the local Girls Club: to provide a safe haven for children that inspires and enables them and their families to realize their full potential as healthy, productive, responsible and caring citizens.
“It looks totally different from what it was in 1924, and the needs might be different, but the roots are still there, of the purpose,” Walsh said. “We are constantly evolving to meet the needs of the community and adapting to changes in the needs of youths. The mission is just as strong as ever.”
When Walsh started at the Boys Club 22 years ago, it was housed in an old brick building — what is now Main Place — that had been a recreational center for Colby College women. The annual budget was $350,000 in 1992; now it’s $2.8 million.
The center offers athletics, aquatics, dance, child care, preschool and after school programs, fitness and wellness activities, summer camp and other programs.
“There are a lot of kids that need our help and support,” Walsh said. “That’s what our organization is all about — helping kids that need it the most.”
â€˜IT’S A LANDMARK’
The local Boys Club was established in 1924 by Colby College student Frank Goodrich, who, with fellow Colby football teammate George Hawes, created a committee to form the club.
The club opened on Temple Street Dec. 12, 1924, in a building built in 1804 by Timothy Boulette. One hundred boys attended the club at its opening.
City Council Chairman Fred Stubbert’s father, Charles, and uncle, Bob, were original members of the club. Fred Stubbert, a 22-year member of the club’s board of directors, grew up in the Boys Club.
“It was kind of my home away from home, so I called myself a â€˜club kid,'” said Stubbert, 77.
Later, as a teenager, he attended the YMCA. He graduated from Waterville High School in 1955 and the Y was “kind of our hangout,” he said.
Stubbert credits his involvement in the Boys Club with making him an outstanding athlete — he played baseball and basketball in high school and still holds some records there — and for helping him go to college. He obtained both a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a master’s in pulp and paper technology from University of Maine at Orono in 1961.
Seeing the club celebrate 90 years is exciting for Stubbert.
“I think it’s a landmark,” he said. “I think the Boys Club and now the Boys & Girls Club have been so prominent in helping the youth in this community for a long, long time. It’s made a great difference in my life.”
When Stubbert’s father and uncle entered the Boys Club the year it opened, Goodrich was the club’s first executive director and worked there while he attended Colby. He was director 16 years, and during that time he helped establish many athletic, social and educational programs. Enrollment grew to more than 1,000 boys. Goodrich remained a member of the club’s board of directors until his death in 1959.
In 1950, George Averill bought the former Colby women’s recreational center on Main Place and gave it to the Boys Club, which moved to that location. In the early 1950s, the YMCA opened in the former Boys Club building on Temple Street, which at the time extended from Front Street through what now is The Concourse to Elm Street. The building, now gone, was near where Temple intersected with Elm.
The Boys Club building on Main Place, located between Main Street and College Avenue near Dunkin’ Donuts, is now vacant and in disrepair.
In 1972, the Waterville Girls Club was organized and held programs in various schools and at a child development center on Water Street. In 1976, the boys and girls clubs were merged under one roof at the Main Place building.
Mike Gallagher was director of the club from 1970 to 1979 and recalled that an addition was built in 1974. The club served a vital need in the community and continues to do so many years later, Gallagher said.
“I fully expected it (to reach 90 years) because it’s such a great organization,” he said.
Gallagher is at the Alfond Center three times a week because he runs the Central Maine Pickleball Club, which started there in 2010. He said he always enjoys seeing people who attended the club as children and now bring their own children there.
In 1994, the Waterville Boys & Girls Club launched a capital campaign to renovate the building, and Waterville philanthropist Harold Alfond gave the effort a $500,000 matching challenge grant. All together, the club raised $2.1 million.
Meanwhile, the YMCA, which had moved to a building at the corner of North and Pleasant streets, also needed a lot of work. Alfond challenged the public to help raise funds for a new youth recreation center that would house both the YMCA and Boys & Girls Club under one roof. The Harold Alfond Foundation contributed $3 million, offering to contribute $3 for every $1 in cash contributed to the project. The campaign raised $9 million.
On May 26, 1999, Mitchell was guest speaker and Gen. Colin Powell was keynote speaker at the dedication of the new Harold and Bibby Alfond Youth Recreation Center, now called the Alfond Youth Center, on North Street.
Two years later, the center launched an endowment campaign and by 2004, had raised $3.5 million. Then in 2005, New Balance Foundation gave the youth center a $1 million challenge grant for renovations at Day Camp Tracy on McGrath Pond in Oakland. Alfond in 2006 challenged the youth center to raise $400,000 and pledged $1 million to renovate the North Street center’s first floor and build a second floor. The Harold Alfond Fenway Park at Camp Tracy also was created.
Last year a campaign was launched to help support long term strategic planning; this year, $635,000 was raised to build a turf field and expand sports offerings at the Alfond Fenway Park.
“We have raised over $35 million for this organization in and outside this community over the years,” Walsh said. “It hasn’t been, of course, easy. I learned from Harold Alfond, if you have a good product, you can sell it, and I think we have a product that is second to none. It was a fantastic merger of the YMCA and Boys & Girls Club, and we invited Big Brothers Big Sisters to the center and gave them free office space.”
One of the major challenges, Walsh said, is that many children have unstable family structures.
“A lot of kids are brought up by mom, a single dad, grandparents, melded families,” Walsh said. “It’s totally different than it was in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. They need mentoring, so it made sense to have Big Brothers Big Sisters here.”
Walsh recently helped develop a club, under the Alfond Center’s purview, for children in Bangor. The program, which received federal funds, opened in January and serves 1,000 children.
“Already, that’s flying,” he said.
Walsh recalls coming to the Boys Club in 1992 and seeing board member and volunteer Phil Roy working tirelessly to raise funds. He was a role model for Walsh.
“The man was totally committed, worked endlessly, volunteered 40-plus hours a week on a business model that could really support and help the Boys & Girls Club,” Walsh said.
Others also have worked hard to raise funds and spread the word about the critical role the center plays in the lives of youths, according to Walsh.
“What’s been most enjoyable for me, personally, is the Boys & Girls Club and YMCA atmosphere is truly of a place where dreams come true. It’s a place where you can create a field of dreams.”
CELEBRATING 90 YEARS
Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, will emcee the May 30 event, which starts at 5 p.m. with a cocktail hour and continues to 8 p.m. when dinner and the awards ceremony begin. There is no cost to attend the dinner, but donations will be “respectfully requested,” according to the invitation.
The Inspirational Hall of Fame Award will be given to the 1944 Waterville High School Champion Basketball Team on its 70th anniversary. Richard Hawkes, Barbara Jolovitz and John Hafenecker also will receive Inspirational Hall of Fame awards. A special acknowledgment and thank you will be issued to members of the original Alfond Youth Center board of directors on the center’s 15th anniversary.
Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty and Dave Perry will be given Romeo J. Paganucci awards, Jane Bickford and Jenny Breau will receive Martha D. Paganucci awards and Cassidy Dangler will receive the Youth of the Year Award.
“It will be a great celebration,” Walsh said. “It’s a reunion of all the people within this community that the Boys & Girls Club mission has touched — and there are many.”
Stubbert says the center fulfills a critical need in the community, yet a lot of children who come from families with low income still believe it is a place for rich kids, when that is hardly the case.
“I know how important it (the center) is, especially now, with the large number of low income and welfare recipients we have in the community,” Stubbert said. “We need this.”
Al Hodsdon, a nine-year member of the board of directors, said being part of the center’s efforts has been rewarding.
“They’ve developed Camp Tracy, the mini Fenway — those facilities out there are real big attractions and the kids love it and so do the parents,” Hodsdon said.
Hodsdon, who calls himself part of the newer generation of helpers, said the center’s efforts would not have been possible without support from major donors such as Alfond, Ken Eskelund and Walter Simcock, who are all gone now.
“We only hope that there are people like them coming up behind them,” Hodsdon said. “That’s the important thing — to get new people involved.”