GARDINER — On most afternoons, Caitlin Carl and her children Jaylen Morang and Jeremiah Morang can be found at the former Pray Street school.

“I do work here most of the time,” said Carl, 31. “But even when I don’t, I still send them so I can get things done, do some errands.”

For the past 18 years, the old school building has housed the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley, where Carl works and where her children can spend time after school doing homework and hanging out with kids their age.

Caitlin Carl, left, with her children Jeremiah Morang, 8, and Jaylen Morang, 11, on Thursday at the Boys & Girls Club of Kennebec Valley in Gardiner. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Since it formed in 1999 from Gardiner’s youth recreation program, the club has served more than 20,000 kids.

In 2018, club programs served 1,844 children, more than half of whom are at or below the federal poverty level. In its capacity as a feeding site for youth and senior citizens, more than 75,000 meals were served.

While the club has grown there steadily since it moved in to the retired school, the building and its systems are showing their age. After some review, replacing it with a new building was the club’s best option.

But by the end of 2021, the building will be replaced with a $10 million facility that will be built next to the current building on the club’s 7.5 acres that are adjacent to Gardiner Area High School.

Club officials have raised $7 million so far, and on Saturday — at the club’s Christmas tree lighting — they launched the community fundraising phase with the goal of raising the remaining $3 million. The day’s celebration included a hot chocolate bar, singing and a visit from some reindeer.

“That’s the kickoff. We have to get out and get going,” Peter Prescott, chief executive officer of E.J. Prescott, said last week. “We will put a shovel in the ground in April, so we have to find a way.”

Prescott, along with Gena Canning of Pine State Beverage and John Fallona, former owner of On Target Utility Services, have been working to secure sizable donations to pay for the ambitious project that add up to $7 million.

“The pressure’s on,” Ingrid Stanchfield, the club’s executive director, said last week. “Foot is on the accelerator. We have to raise the remaining $3 million in three months.”

Ingrid Stanchfield

Stanchfield said no gift is too small at the community level.

“That’s the beauty of the community level — that everyone feels like they had some part in making it happen, whether it’s a $100 gift or a $100,000 gift, whatever the capacity of the donor is,” she said.

At 32,000 square feet, the new building will be about a third larger than the existing building to accommodate expanded childcare offerings for children 6 weeks old or older, and for programs for the school-age children and seniors who use the facility.

Gardiner Mayor Patricia Hart said the club, with its childcare and its before- and after-school care, is an important economic development and sustainability asset for the city of Gardiner.

“It gives parents peace of mind to know their kids can be in a safe place while they’re at work,” Hart said.

While the main club building is in Gardiner — there is also a satellite program in Chelsea — the parents who make use of the club’s services work everywhere from Waterville to Portland and from Waterboro to Damariscotta, according to an analysis supplied by the club.

Prescott said if people knew everything the club has to offer, the fundraising would have long since been completed and would already be under construction.

Jaylen Morang, 11, and Jeremiah Morang, 8, will have a front-row seat to the construction as it progresses.

“We’re going to have a bigger gym,” Jeremiah Morang said, “and we’re not going to have to share the bathroom with the Teen Center anymore.”

Jaylen Morang said she is looking forward to more room at the building because there are many kids who use the Teen Center.

“And the heat’s actually going to work,” Jeremiah Morang said.

They both think it important to let people know the club has many nice people and many fun things to do.

“If there’s something that’s happening at home that you don’t feel comfortable talking to somebody else with, you can talk to a staff member here and they will make you feel better,” Jaylen Morang said.

For Carl, being able to send her children to the Boys & Girls Clubs is a chance to enrich their lives.

“For these guys, it gives them the chance to be outside of school socializing,” she said. “They both go to Homework here, which is great so we don’t have to do it at home. They have the ability to have some help.”

For Jaylen, teachers in the Teen Center are available to tutoring if she needs help with her homework, Carl said.

“They can enjoy themselves and have a good time and be able to be with their friends and make the bond with other adults that they might need because they need that for all sorts of aspects,” Carl said.

“I love it here. I love all of it here,” said Carl, who worked in daycare before coming to the Boys & Girls Clubs. “I love working here and I love (my kids)  being here. When I came to the club, I came planning on being  (here) in the afternoon after my other job, and I wasn’t going to work summer. But when the summer came, I was like: I can’t go all summer long without seeing these guys. You build bonds with them, and it’s kind of a special feeling to have these kids looking up to you. I think it will be something I will be at a long time.”

All the money being raised is for the building project. When the new building is complete, the existing building will be torn down to make way for a new soccer field.

“This is the most exciting thing I’ve ever been involved with like this,” Prescott said. “I can’t imagine not being able to really do something for kids for a minimum of the next 50 years.”

 


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