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Getting through homework is the first task for the kids and teens who visit the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster after school. But between the newly built gymnasium and a makerspace where kids can practice coding and robotics, the range of things to do after schoolwork are growing.

On Oct. 17, the club unveiled its gymnasium to the public, a renovation project that broke ground in March. The makerspace, known as the Hill STEAM Center, has been operating since late September and just received a delivery of laptops, part of a $46,500 grant from Knorr-Bremse Global Care North America Foundation (KBGCNA), the philanthropic arm of Knorr Brake Company.

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Children enjoy the new gymnasium that was recently dedicated at the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster Tuesday, October 29, 2019.
Children enjoy the new gymnasium that was recently dedicated at the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster Tuesday, October 29, 2019. (Dylan Slagle)

What was once a parking lot behind 71 E. Main St. — where the Boys & Girls Club moved in on April 9, 2018 — is now a gym for playing sports as well as hosting dances and move nights. The students’ first day in the new space was Monday, Oct. 21.

Before it had a gym, the club partnered with East Middle School and the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks to find recreation spaces for their kids. Having their own on-site space will be welcome as the winter months arrive, students said.

The club held an event Oct. 17 in the new gym to celebrate the BUILD campaign. The campaign raised funds for the construction of the gym and other features to make the new space a “state of the art” facility that can serve 600 kids per day. In total, the campaign raised $5,541,186 in donations and grants.

Executive Director Bonnae Meshulam told guests that nationwide members of the Boys & Girls Club Board of Directors have visited to tour Westminster because that facility is a model for others.

“Thank you for giving our kids another home," she told the gathered donors and volunteers.

One of the largest pieces of funding for the gym was a block grant for $750,000 administered through the Maryland Department of Housing & Community Development.

A group was playing an energetic round of basketball last Tuesday, Oct. 29, after school. Tenth-grader Steven Zbignewich, one of the players, is one of the students who has taken a leadership role with the gym, working the scoreboard and monitoring and mentoring younger students. He hopes to go on to be a coach or referee in the future.

A few days earlier, the space had been used for a lock-in activity for about 40 students who ran in the Baltimore Running Festival 5K. They spent an overnight at the Boys & Girls Club, with open gym hours all night. Marketing Director Erin Bishop said it was tough to persuade them to go to sleep.

“It’s a really good way for kids to focus their energy in a positive way," she said.

Evelyn Hewitt, left, and Jessica Knapp, both 9, build structures in the new Maker Space at the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster Tuesday, October 29, 2019.
Evelyn Hewitt, left, and Jessica Knapp, both 9, build structures in the new Maker Space at the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster Tuesday, October 29, 2019. (Dylan Slagle)

Downstairs in the main building, the Hill STEAM Center has equipment that ranges from a 3-D printer to snap circuits to construction toys that Bishop said can be good for younger kids who “don’t even realize they’re doing math” as they play.

Bishop said the room has transformed from when it was just a basement used for storage. Now artwork by club member Dillon Hereth adorns one entire wall after the club enlarged it and printed it onto doors that cover storage shelves.

The grant from KBGCNA also went toward Chromebooks and iPads; STEM activity kits; robotics equipment; coding software, new shelving; tables and stools; and SMART lighting. Knorr Brake Company employees already regularly volunteer at the Boys & Girls Club through a longstanding partnership.

“This space will provide exposure to STEM opportunities and empower Boys & Girls Club members, who otherwise would not have access to STEM, to explore, create, and innovate,” according to a news release from the club.

Last Tuesday, 6-year-old Zayne Burns was taking a crack at a complicated Rubik’s Cube and exclaiming when he figured out how to line up a few of the colored tiles. Bishop promised him ice cream if he one day could solve the whole thing. Another group was using a straw constructor set to build a structure that turned into a 6-foot-tall throne by the end of the afternoon.

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Tenth-grader Aiden Zaslow, who has a 3-D printer at home, has been in demand from younger students for help in printing projects.

“I show them how to do it as I do it with them,” he said.

Anthony Gaskins III, a McDaniel College freshman student, mentors the students at the Hill STEAM Center three days a week and is the coach of the robotics team, named the Spacenuggets. On Tuesday, four students were working on building parts of their entry in the upcoming FIRST LEGO League competitions.

Bishop said a promising sign for club leadership has been that many kids don’t want to leave when their parents arrive to pick them up.

“They ask, ‘Why do you have to get here so early?’ " she said with a laugh.

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