By Jack Minch
Sentinel & Enterprise
LEOMINSTER — The Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster officially opened its renovated and expanded Ronald M. Ansin Junior Clubhouse with a ribbon cutting at 5:39 p.m. Wednesday, but the journey to that point started modestly 11 years ago, officials said. “This is our building, as a community, Leominster and Fitchburg,” said Board of Directors member Jim Adams. About 150 supporters, children and their families attended the sunset ceremony and toured the building, which features study space, meeting rooms, common areas, a café and gymnasium with a stage that has electronic lighting equipment. There are basketball courts and playing fields outside. “We are so blessed to have this kind of home — a state-of-the-art physical plant that will enable us to continue our firm commitment to the young children and teenagers of our regions and to better serve their needs for programs and services that help them reach their full potential,” said Board Chairman M. Marcus Moran.
Vilmary Colon, of Leominster, attended with her son Estevan, who turns 11 years old today and is a fifth-grader at Johnny Appleseed Elementary School. Estevan rides a schoolbus to the club after school, so his mother does not worry about him being home alone anymore. “I don’t have to worry about him, call home, and make sure he’s inside the house,” she said. He gets to the club, checks in at the front desk, then does homework before what Estevan called the fun stuff. He likes the robotics program and guitar lessons, and plays a lot of sports. Victoria Holden and Alicia Alvez, both 13 and eighth-graders at Skyview Middle School in Leominster, watched the ribbon cutting and walked through the building. Alicia said she has been attending about a year, and Victoria for a couple of months. “I like doing junior staff where you come down once a week to help the kids with homework or activities,” Alicia said. Of the 4,000 clubs nationwide, the local club is the only one dedicated to the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math.
It now has nearly 200 children attend daily, said Executive Director Donata Martin. The club recently received national recognition for 50 percent growth in 2011 compared to 2010, she said. “We’ve changed our vision over time but not our mission: To inspire and enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens,” Martin said. The club started in borrowed space at the Veterans Center in Leominster with 10 students and on the then-Fitchburg State College campus in Fitchburg.
After several years, the club looked for someplace to expand and found the former Julie Day Country School. It rented the building from the Trustees of Reservations and then, with the help of a donor, purchased the property. “We had an angel donor come forward for us,” Adams said. The donor bought the building for the club and more than 20 acres along with it. Then the donor, whose name is carefully guarded, said he wanted to make renovations for the club. Work started about 20 months ago. The building is 30,000 square feet laid out in an L-shaped footprint. The center of the building was a former barn with a leaky roof, bad plumbing and questionable wiring so it was torn down and rebuilt.
Featured speakers during the ceremony included state representatives Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, and Dennis Rosa, D-Leominster, as well as Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella. “It’s quite the edifice as they say,” DiNatale said. “Just amazing, the transformation of this building.” Rosa was equally impressed. “This is nothing short of a miracle, an absolute miracle,” he said. Mount Wachusett Community College President Daniel Asquino, who is a board member, marveled at the programming offered that includes robotics, art and gardening. “This is probably, in my estimation, the best Boys & Girls Club in the country,” he said.
A moment of silence was held in memory of two of the founding members of the board, Tim Richards and Bruce Lawrence, who were driving forces in the early days of the club. The club’s Athletic and Teen centers were named in their honors, respectively.
The Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster will hold an open house at its renovated home at 365 Lindell Ave. on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., including a pancake breakfast from 10 a.m. to noon.