With the recent redrawing of Maryland's congressional districts, U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards could soon be representing the city of Laurel if she's re-elected in November. On Wednesday, she took the time to meet with some of her future District 4 constituents: volunteers at the Laurel Boys and Girls Club.
Edwards spent more than an hour touring the club's building, which was erected in 1899 as Prince George's County's first high school, and observing some of the club's activities.
When Edwards arrived, LBGC president Levet Brown guided her toward a hall of classrooms where volunteer James Egins was leading the club's after-school program.
The 28 children who participate in the program are from nearby schools, such as Laurel Elementary, Scotchtown Hills Elementary, Bond Mill Elementary and Eisenhower Middle School. Brown told Edwards that the club is the only one in Maryland that picks up the children from school to bring to them program.
Edwards asked a few questions about the program. One was does the program offer meals for the children.
Learning that it does not, she told the club officials about a state-subsidized meal program to which they could apply.
"It's a program that I actually helped start for Maryland," Edwards said.
Edwards' visit was timed only two days after students from Woodland Job Corps, an organization that provides jobs skills training, started tutoring and helping the children in the after-school program with homework.
The 20 some Woodland volunteers will also be helping the club with construction work. The LBGC working with Woodland is a "good partnership," Edwards said. She suggested the two organizations apply together for a special grant that the Department of Labor offers, which would allow the Woodland volunteers to get paid for helping the club.
Next, Edwards met Terrance Wright, an 18-year-old graduate of Annapolis High School and student at the Princeton Day Academy in Beltsville. Wright is one of 12 students in the club's college prep program, which they run in partnership with the Princeton Day Academy.
Wright told Edwards he wants to be the first person in his family to go to college and he is hoping to major in sports management and play Division I basketball.
Edwards suggested Wright also consider looking at Division 3 schools, which she said are "great academic schools" that offer academic scholarships for students who participate in athletics. She knows because her son wanted to play basketball but he had a lot more offers from Division III schools than Division I schools.
"Don't leave it off the table," she advised Wright.
Edwards also stopped by Robert Crawford's boxing and martial arts training facility, which leases space in the club's building.
"When you come through the door … I'm going to prepare you like you're getting ready for a championship," Crawford told Edwards. "It's not the fanciest gym, but we get the job done."
Edwards toured the majority of the facility — parts of the basement that are largely unused and in dismal shape. Nearly everywhere in the building is something that could be improved upon or replaced.
Looking at the poor state of facility, Edwards said to Brown, LBCG vice president Mike Sarich and LBGC mentoring director Adrian Rousseau: "The Boys and Girls Club of America, all of their affiliates receive federal money. … You know the thing that doesn't get touched in our (budget) appropriations is the Boys and Girls clubs."
The LBCG, which was formed in 1954, is not affiliated with the BGCA. Brown said that was because the affiliation would provide certain limits on the club.
For example, he said, they wouldn't be able to offer football or allow churches and community groups to use the club's facilities.
"You'd have to get rid of stuff," Brown said.
Because affiliates of the BGCA are getting millions of dollars, Edwards encouraged the LBGC to discuss the possibility of an affiliation and see if they can get exceptions for the services they want to continue to offer.
From a Congressional standpoint, Edwards said it would be difficult to advocate for financial assistance for the LBGC when the federal government already gives a large chunk of money to clubs through the BGCA. She also noted that many corporations and philanthropies would likely be hesitant to give to the club if they already donate to the BGCA.
Sarich said the club can take a "fresh look" at the possibility of an affiliation.
After her tour, Edwards said, "My first impression is just from a historical perspective, it's a beautiful building. It's the function that gets to me."
She explained that she would like to continue to brainstorm ideas with the club on how it can find the resources to strengthen its programs.
After Edwards left, Brown, Sarich and Rousseau said they were impressed by how much time she spent with them.
"I can tell she really cares," Sarich said, noting "the number one benefit of (Edwards' visit) is she's able to connect us with things she knows and we don't."
Brown added: "It will make it easier for her to support us, write a letter, because she's seen (the club)."
Rousseau, who had previously visited Edwards at her office, said he was glad she could visit the club, so if she does become Laurel's Congressional representative "it's not new faces" and she has an awareness about "the importance of our community."