Following its first meeting last week, members of the City Council-approved Laurel Boys and Girls Club task force are optimistic that the initiative can make a difference.
"From my personal opinion, I thought it was an outstanding start to this process," said task force chair Rick Wilson, who served on the City Council from 2002-05.
Club President Levet Brown, who appointed the club's two representatives on the task force, agreed.
"It was positive for me, because I got an opportunity to tell the story of the club," said Brown.
According to Wilson, the task force spent most of its first meeting on April 22 listening to Brown explain the club's programs and services.
"What I think is important (is) we all understand exactly what the club is trying to accomplish," Wilson said. "Everybody has an idea of what a Boys and Girls Club should be. ... Until we all understand each other and what we mean when we talk about the club, we can't move forward."
Brown said he was grateful for the opportunity to dispel what he said were myths about the club.
"We got to explain to folks what the Laurel Boys and Girls Club actually does. There is a myth it is just a sports program; it's so much more," Brown said.
Brown said the club has approximately 2,000 participants in its sports programs annually, which include baseball, basketball, boxing, cheerleading, football, soccer and wrestling, according to the club's website.
However, the club helps approximately 5,500 more people through its alternative programming, which includes summer camps, after-school programs, community service programs, and outside use of the 114-year-old Phelps Center, according to Brown.
On Saturday, April 27, the club hosted a free food drive and information session on statewide low-cost health care problems in conjunction with the Laurel chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
Brown also alluded to events that take place in the Phelps Center facility, such as Laurel High School's Grad Night — a chaperoned event co-sponsored by the city and the Laurel High PTSA.
"There are so many things the club does for the community," Brown said. "There is a minority in this community that have been fed misinformation, but this task force is going to bring it all out."
Brown said the club has postponed earlier plans to establish a charter high school at the Phelps Center, and will not renew the lease of its tenant, Princeton Day Academy, which was using part of the club at no charge.
While Brown praised the makeup of the task force and Wilson as chair, he said there is one segment of the population that is not represented.
"I think Rick Wilson is an excellent chair. He is fair," Brown said. "The board makeup is excellent, but one major issue of this board is it is lacking someone from the disadvantaged community. They would have a different view than us."
Brown said he hopes the task force yields financial solutions for the club, which he said has an operating budget of $400,000.
"I'm looking for the city, state and county officials to put together some kind of package," Brown said.
Brown said the club needs operational funds to "keep the lights on," and needs a loan partner to help restore the 114-year-old Phelps Center, which was the original Laurel High School and the first high school in Prince George's County. The club acquired the building, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, for $1 from the county government in 2002 after the county determined it was surplus property.
Wilson said the task force will hold six, two-hour meetings, which will include an opportunity for public input, and will be televised on the city's public access channel.
At the second meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 30, the task force planned to discuss the city's youth programming. Wilson said the goal of the discussion of the city's programs is to provide "context" for the task force.
The overall goal of the task force is to present short- and long-term recommendations to the city council and the club, based on the task force's discussions and examinations.
The task force doesn't yet have any findings to present.
"The club and the City Council are looking for ideas and findings to improve the operations of the club," Wilson said. "I don't have any preconceived notions of what the magic pill could be."
Wilson reiterated that the main function of the task force will be to act as fact-finders on behalf of the decision-makers.
"We don't get to write anybody a check," Wilson said. "I see our job as trying to put out that information and provide as much context as possible."