By LISA CAPOBIANCO
More than two years have passed since the Don Tinty Boys & Girls Club of Bristol Family Center opened on West Street, and the new facility has become a constant scene of activity and success.
Since its 38,000-square-foot facility opened, the club has continued to expand programming that focuses academic success, healthy lifestyles, good character, citizenship while receiving more national recognition in recent years.
On Jan. 26, BBGC staff and its Board of Directors welcomed Jim Clark, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Clark, who oversees 4,300 Boys & Girls Clubs across the country, visited BBGC on West Street to see the new facility while learning more about its programs.
At the time of his visit, Clark was present for an area council meeting held for all the Boys & Girls Clubs around Connecticut when he took particular interest in seeing BBGC for the first time, said Michael Suchopar, president & CPO of BBGC.
“He knew we were a new facility and knew that we had a large variety of services that aren’t in some cases, typical for Boys & Girls Clubs around the country,” said Suchopar. “That makes us a little more unique.”
During a phone interview with The Bristol Observer last Thursday, Clark said he was “impressed across the board” after visiting BBGC.
“It’s a beautiful building that has been assembled for youth and teens in Bristol,” said Clark, adding how BBGC staff has done a “fabulous job” of engaging youth. “What is more impressive… is the fabulous work that’s being done inside the building to help develop, grow and provide access to opportunities and experiences for youth in Bristol.”
Serving up to 1,000 youth daily, BBGC provides a network of services at 12 different sites in Bristol, including Cambridge Park, and club houses eight elementary schools, as well as the Family Center Gymnastics.
From coding and CADD (computer-aided designing and drafting) to Instructional Basketball to Fine Arts, BBGC provides programs that meet a variety of interests among youth. BBGC’s state-of-the-art facility on West Street is equipped with a teen center, a technology center, and an arts and science center, as well as a performing arts center and the Fiondella Field House.
“We have diverse areas,” said Suchopar, adding how children from throughout the state and New England have visited the Club. “The building is built with many of the tools that we need to really meet where kids they are, and to really be relevant.”
In addition, BBGC was the first Boys & Girls Club to provide programs that focus on physical literacy, which is the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activity for life.”
BBGC has partnered with the University of Connecticut to offer P.L.U.S.S. Club Programs, which take a comprehensive approach to wellness by involving all community stakeholders and allowing youth to move throughout the day through activities like STEAM gardening, science-based, healthy cooking classes, and sports sampling-centered physical activity.
“Physical literacy is something that the Bristol Club is pioneering, and I see that as a program that will continue to gain traction and expand,” said Clark, adding how the teen center is a ‘wonderful example’ of creating the right space for teens. “Their arts program is top-tier already—and it’s not just fine arts, but [also] a variety of arts.”
Although the majority of Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide serve youth between the ages of six and 18, BBGC serves individuals throughout their lifespan.
BBGC is the only Boys & Girls Club nationwide to offer an early learning center that is a museum-based program. Located at 1 Pleasant Street, Imagine Nation, A Museum Early Learning Center is a NAEYC-accredited school readiness program that sees children and families from 170 different communities each year, inspiring creativity and curiosity through a variety of studio workshops, including the GE Makers Lab.
Besides Imagine Nation, the Older Members’ Association, an alumni and volunteer organization, has been an integral part of BBGC. Since 1923, OM’s have contributed countless volunteer hours and fundraising activities to support BBGC.
“The youngest child that we serve is six weeks old in our infant-toddler program, and our oldest member is 92, so we really provide services throughout the lifespan,” said Suchopar.
For Suchopar, the passion exemplified by his staff was something he felt most proud of to share with Clark. To date, BBGC has nearly 130 staff members.
“All of them have accepted the challenge to be innovative, to be creative, to meet kids mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually,” said Suchopar, adding how there was a sense of optimism and pride during the visit with Clark. “Every single one of them has passion for what they do.”
Clark was impressed by BBGC staff—as well as the number of BBGC volunteers.
“This is an incredible group of community leaders, community stakeholders who give up their time, treasure and talent to ensure that the Club is successful, vibrant and remains contemporary,” said Clark.
During his visit, Clark not only discussed BBGC’s programming with Suchopar, but also discussed the needs of youth today, which has changed over the years.
Suchopar said the kinds of pressures youth and teens face today are different, adding how Clark’s visit was an opportunity to address this issue.
“They live in the wake of 9/11….increased violence in their communities and on social media,” said Suchopar. “How do you develop programs that really tune in on kids and what they’re needs are today? What we spoke about at length was how we are really relevant to kids.”
Clark recognized that the Club in Bristol has developed a variety of programs that address the challenges youth face today.
“One of the strengths of Boys & Girls Clubs over the 157-year history, has been all about remaining relevant and contemporary in the lives of youth and teens,” said Clark, adding how BBGC is a leader for the Boys & Girls Club movement. “Michael and his team have focused on this as well, and you see it through the program’s they’ve developed…to interact with youth. When you do this right, you do remain relevant.”
Comments? Email lcapobianco@BristolObserver.com.