“This is the proudest I’ve ever been,” Jerome Levisy beamed.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for his organization’s new facility on Monday, January 6th, the CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Durham and Orange Counties (BGCDOC) stood surrounded by bright, cerulean walls and a crowd of community supporters. The rafters overhead, among the only remaining evidence of the Wal-Mart that filled the space before, gave way to skylights that bathed everyone in a perfect, natural light.
The ceremony was well attended. Former Durham mayor Bill Bell was there, as was Durham musician and Blackspace founder, Pierce Freelon. Several local news cameras set up station around the perimeter of the event, and BGCDOC’s large community of partners and advocates—DPR Construction, Trinity Partners, Goodwill Community Foundation, Urban Properties, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, and many others—stood by to offer their continued support. Staff from The Forest at Duke, a long-time supporting organization of the BGCDOC, also stood in attendance, proud to watch the exciting event unfold.
At the core
The Club’s former building at 808 East Pettigrew Street in East Durham sits between the Durham Freeway (NC-147) and train tracks. While in that location for almost 50 years, the BGCDOC faced many challenges, including flooding and safety concerns, like theft.
The passionately dedicated Club staff pushed past those experiences and continued to work toward providing much-needed services to the youth counting on them on a daily basis.
Through the Club’s after-school program, the BGCDOC provides about 150 members with homework assistance, hands-on learning activities, and one-on-one tutoring.
The children participate in yoga, self defense, and physical education, and learn healthy habits. They are encouraged to volunteer in their communities and learn about career paths that might interest them. They take part in character and leadership development and participate in arts and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) programming.
A home away from home, if there were no BGCDOC, 68% of the youth the Club serves would eat their last meal at school each day.
In with the new
With talks about the light rail project coming to Durham, Jerome Levisy knew that the Club’s home on Pettigrew was no longer a good fit. At the BGCDOC’s annual Blue Door Breakfast in 2018, he said, “The Corporate Board of Directors and staff have started a process to relocate the facility that is in Durham.”
Alluding to the light rail project, he continued, “As you can imagine, dealing with federal dollars, the project has run into its roadblocks. But it is full speed ahead. It is coming. The Monday after Thanksgiving, they will park some heavy-duty equipment on our Boys and Girls Club, right on Pettigrew Street, because, no pun intended, you can’t stop a train.”
It was just after this announcement that long-time Club supporter Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) shone a light in the dark. Cheryl Crisp-Parquet, director of community and diversity engagement at BCBSNC, presented a check to the Club for $500,000—a milestone that would soon lead others to give money to Jerome and the BGCDOC board to fund the dream of a new building.
While membership in the BGCDOC costs only $10 each year, the benefits to the kids are almost immeasurable. Thanks to the work done by Club staff and volunteers, 99% of the kids are on track to graduate from high school, and 80% of members plan to complete some kind of post-secondary education. Through the support of BGCDOC’s after-school program, summer camp, and other initiatives, Club youth develop important life skills and work toward academic success.
All of these wonderful things transferred over to the new building, presented to the BGCDOC’s throng of supporters on January 6th. The whopping 32,000 square-foot community resource, sandwiched comfortably between Triangle Rock Club and Planet Fitness at 1010 Martin Luther King, Jr. Parkway in Durham, is a significant and welcome change from the Club’s previous home on Pettigrew. Indeed, it is more than double the size of the former facility!
If it takes a village to raise a child, the people and organizations in the BGCDOC’s village have not fallen short for Club members. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new $3 million facility, Jerome Levisy thanked the many people and organizations who made the finished project possible. The BGCDOC was especially blessed by numerous subcontractors who donated labor and materials throughout the course of the project, saving the Club over half a million dollars in costs.
The new facility is an incredible sight to see. “This is a dream coming true,” remarked Lynda Curtis, BGCDOC’s board president, minutes before Jerome invited everyone to tour the building.
A place to build a dream on
Security cameras and on-site security service. New plumbing and duct work. A fully stocked computer lab, thanks to a generous donation by Lenovo. A large collection of books and magazines lining the walls of classrooms, hangouts, and hallways, given by the literacy champions at Book Harvest.
A maker space, meeting room, and ample storage. Air hockey tables, foosball, pool tables, a kitchen, full basketball court, and brightly painted classrooms. Toys, a playhouse, desks, dry erase boards, and school supplies galore.
In the months to come, that long, cerulean hallway will have a timeline printed upon it, recognizing the outstanding legacy of the John Avery Boys and Girls Club and its impact in Durham and Orange Counties. At the end of the hallway—which may very well be a football field’s length from the front entrance—a 100″ LED interactive flat-screen television is fixed to the wall, rolling photos of Club youth and staff and detailing upcoming BGCDOC events for all to see.
A village comes through
The BGCDOC’s success is built upon many factors: Grants. Corporate and individual giving. Fundraising events. Its passionate staff. Its families and community friends. The eager, hardworking volunteers who offset rising labor costs. The subcontractors who worked extra hard through the holiday season to meet deadlines for the children’s sake. The people who unloaded and unpacked the old facility into the new one.
All of these pieces make up one wholly beautiful picture of love and devotion for a beloved organization—one that has served Durham and Orange County youth for generations.
At the January 6th ribbon-cutting ceremony, when Lynda Curtis said, “We are the answer for the children of Durham,” her comment was met with impassioned nods and a chorus of agreement.
And when the children—seeing their new space for the very first time—entered those grey and cerulean walls that very afternoon, their bright smiles and eager footsteps said everything the village needed to hear.
—Lauren Young, Marketing Specialist