This rendering shows a view of the planned new facility of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley in Gardiner. Image courtesy of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley

GARDINER — To help reach its $10 million fundraising goal, officials at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley are hoping a $1 million matching challenge will ignite contributions as 2020 draws to a close.

To date, they have raised about $750,000, powered in part by Giving Tuesday, and they hope to reach their goal by Dec. 31.

Giving Tuesday, the annual event on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving that promotes supporting nonprofit organizations, drew a number of gifts and increased commitments from companies and members of the campaign committee supporting the effort.

“We’ve had some big gifts,” Gena Canning, a member of the campaign committee, said Friday.  “It’s become more apparent that more space is needed.”

The club has also received smaller gifts that Canning said are just as meaningful.

“We have club alumni who are 23 and 24 writing checks for $100,” she said. “They’ve only been out of college for a year or two, and it’s such a huge gift.”

Just over a year ago, club officials announced their campaign to raise money to replace the club’s building, the former Pray Street Elementary School in Gardiner.

Their plan is to build a new facility, estimated to cost $10 million, next to the existing building. When it’s done, the existing building will be razed and replaced by a soccer field.

They had targeted spring 2020 as the end of fundraising and the start of construction on the 32,000-square-foot building. Plans call for the building to be one-third larger than the existing building, so the organization will be able to expand its child care offerings for children 6 weeks old or older and expand its capacity to serve school-age children in after-school programs and the senior citizens who also use the facility.

The global coronavirus pandemic derailed that schedule, as businesses across the state shut down to slow the spread of the highly contagious virus. Even though raising funds was put on the back burner, the club opened its doors at the end of March to provide childcare for essential workers who continued to work through the spring and summer.

While the new building was designed before the pandemic was declared, its design — with each room having direct access to the outside — is expected to help the club weather situations where maintaining physical distancing among the groups using the facility is important.

“Should we come into another pandemic or a flu outbreak, the new building is designed so we don’t have to shut the whole thing down,” she said.

The club, which is ending a two-week shutdown after one case of COVID-19 was reported on Nov. 30, continues to provide daycare and is offering a place for Gardiner-area students to come on remote learning days. About two-thirds of the children have parents who are essential workers.

“It’s become more apparent that we need more space,” Canning said.

At the club, children have access to the internet and to tutors who can help with school work, she said. And it’s clear that not all children in the district have the same access to the tools they need to complete their work and to progress.

Earlier this fall, the board announced it was restarting fundraising, with a $75,000 gift from Central Maine Power in conjunction with Lights On Afterschool, an annual national event that celebrates after-school programs and the need they fill for families and communities.

Janelynn Deprey, a South Gardiner parent who sends her three children to the Boys & Girls Clubs, attended programs there herself as a child.

“I tell everybody, if you are thinking about investing in anything local, invest in the club,” Deprey said. “The children that fill it and will always continue to fill it are our future employees and employers. If we can fill it with great kids and give everybody an opportunity, we’re going to have a successful community.”

Canning said she’s optimistic the club can meet the challenge goal.

“We’re so grateful for the match and the donations,” she said. “We don’t want to leave any money on the table.”

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