After 37 years of serving youth in Somerville, there’s now a large FOR SALE sign on the former Somerville Boys & Girls Club at 181 Washington Street. Why did this happen?
In June 2010, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Middlesex County (BGCMC) sent a letter to their members indicating that the Somerville Club would close in August 2010. The letter’s explanation for the closure read as follows:
“In recent years, the neighborhood demographics of our Washington Street location have changed significantly and it is becoming increasingly difficult for many kids, especially those who need us the most, to access the Club.
The decision to close Washington Street is difficult and is not a decision we made lightly. However, we cannot ignore the fact that the demographics and needs of the Washington Street community have changed.”
What does this mean? What specific demographics are they referring to? And are they implying that the children who were using the club didn’t really need it?
“Demographics” usually implies gender, race, age, education, and income. Given that many of the students being served by the Boys and Girls club were non-white and in lower income brackets, it seems to me that this is a poor choice of words for their rationale.
Here’s what I’m wondering: Is “demographics” the code word being used to describe students who do not attend Somerville Public Schools?
The majority of the children who were served by the Club were students from the Prospect Hill Academy Charter School (PHA). Students who attend PHA are residents of Somerville, Cambridge, Everett, and dozens of other towns in the Boston metropolitan area. Many of the PHA students who attended the Boys and Girls Club did so due to the lack of other affordable after-school programs in close proximity to grades K-6 of the charter schools.
The BGCMC web site proclaims their mission as follows:
“The Boys & Girls Clubs of Middlesex County serve the youth of Cambridge, Everett, Medford, and Somerville. Our mission is to inspire and enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to become productive, responsible and caring citizens.”
There is no indication here that they only want to serve the youth of a particular demographic or those who attend a particular school. So why is it that they felt they were not serving the “right” people at the Somerville Club?
A helpful letter was sent to PHA parents from the PHA and the BGCMC administrations listing seven available after-school programs in Somerville, Medford, and Cambridge. Four of the programs cost at least $300 per month (two of these provide transportation and one is on site at PHA). The remaining programs cost $30-50 per year but do not provide transportation to their facility. These costs or lack of transportation pose major obstacles for many families.
On June 14, 2010, the Somerville Journal explains the reason for the closure as purely financial: “The Somerville Public School administration’s planned departure from its Washington Street offices has spelled the end for the Boys & Girls Club…”
Without the annual rental income from the school administration, the Club’s balance sheet no longer made sense. The BGCMC web site reports that “it costs approximately $500/member to maintain a Boys & Girls Club.” For the 2009 academic year, it cost only $30 to register a student for one year of use. Could creative financial management efforts have saved the club?
When BGCMC notified parents of its plans to close, member parents responded with a petition and expressed the desire to participate in fund-raising and the willingness to give more money to the Club for annual membership. Many parents would have voluntarily paid more than $30 per year to keep the Club afloat if the administration had opened up a dialogue with their constituents. There was more than enough energy and determination in the Club’s staff and membership to make an attempt at keeping it alive.
What I want to know is: What really killed Somerville’s Boys and Girls Club?
Disclosure: I live in Somerville near the former Somerville Boys and Girls Club. Both of my children were members of the Somerville Club and attend PHA.
Information sourced for this posting: