When the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster launched in 2006, it was just 10 children in the basement of Union Street United Methodist Church in Westminster.
Fast forward to 2017, and the after-school program sees 120 students every day, helping them with homework and giving their parents or guardians peace of mind, according to Executive Director Bonnae Meshulam. She just wishes they could help more children than they do already — there are at least 75 families on the waiting list.
“I have had 75 families on a waiting list for over a year, with calls every day, and we have got to get those kids in there,” Meshulam said “We just have to get those kids into the club.”
And they are: The Boys & Girls Club of Westminster is in the process of renovating the former PNC Bank building at 71 E. Main St., a project that will allow them to host hundreds more students by sometime in 2018.
For that reason and their history of serving the community, on Wednesday, Oct. 18, the Boys & Girls of Westminster will be honored in the nonprofit category at the Community Foundation of Carroll County's 12th annual Philanthropists of the Year awards. Individual, youth, family and business award winners will also be recognized at the event.
Past winners of the Philanthropist of the Year in the nonprofit category include Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc., The Shepherd’s Staff and The Arc Carroll County.
“It’s such an awesome recognition for the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster, it really is,” Meshulam said.
It was Tom Gordon III, a Boys & Girls Club volunteer and board member who initially nominated the club for the honor.
“I nominated the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster as the organization promotes the welfare of others — specifically children in our community,” he wrote in an email. “The new location in downtown Westminster will give the organization the ability to serve several hundred children in our community each day.”
And it was the growth of the Boys & Girls Club, particularly under Meshulam’s leadership since 2012, that led the Community Foundation to accept that nomination and issue the award, according to Executive Director Audrey Cimino.
“When you think of something that started in the basement of the church and how it’s going into a really big facility on Main Street, with hundreds of kids,” Cimino said, “they’ve done that basically since Bonnae came on the scene. It’s extraordinary what they have done.”
In 2012, Meshulam retired from 28 years as president of Junior Achievement of Central Maryland, and the Boys & Girls Club was looking for a new director.
“We had 40-some kids,” Meshulam said of the time she came on board. “We now have 241 members and about 120 a day for after-school.”
That’s about the most the club’s present location at 25 Union St., with its 2,500 square feet of usable, can possibly hold, according to Meshulam. Hence the multimillion-dollar renovation that will eventually yield 21,000 square feet, she said.
The new facility will open with enough space to clear off the wait list on Jan. 2, 2018, while a gymnasium, which Meshulam said will increase capacity to 600 or more children, will be completed later in the year as funding is available.
“Since January, we have raised $2.7 million toward that $5 million campaign,” she said. “It’s so exciting.”
And in Cimino’s view, the award isn’t simply predicated on future plans, but the work the club has been doing now for years as well.
“They have a summer camp program that is very successful,” Cimino said. “They have a wonderful internship program with McDaniel College where they kids come down and act as mentors and as coaches and as tutors.”
And while, as Gordon noted, one role of the Boys & Girls Club is to help insure children who have a challenging family situation, or simply a two-working-parent household, do not get into trouble after school, Cimino believes it’s so much more than a way to keep kids off the streets.
“Nobody was there to supervise their homework,” she said. “Well, now the kids are getting their homework done. And guess what happens when kids do their homework? They get some success. And what happens when you get a little bit of success? You want more.”
Meshulam is proud to point out that every child who has graduated from the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster thus far — they work with children ages 6 through 18 — has gone on to college.
Not that it’s all academics either. Meshulam is excited to talk about the new teen center that will open in the new building.
“The teen center will be Friday Nights and Saturdays so they can bring their friends under adult supervision and play air hockey, ping pong or just chat, hang around and play music,” she said. “We’re going to have a recording studio and radio station in the building as well.”
Cimino also recognized Meshulam’s ambition to see the new Boys & Girls Club location bring new energy to downtown Westminster.
“We hope that we are the hub to really bring that part of Main Street back,” Meshulam said. “We’ll have over 600 kids a day, and imagine all those parents are aware of all the businesses on Main Street. We have a close relationship with the library, caddy corner across the street, a relationship with parks and rec — we have the huge Westminster park.”
There’s still a lot to do in other words, and even putting aside the capital campaign, Meshulam said, the Boys & Girls Club can always use additional funding — families pay $20 per child per school year to attend. She hopes the Philanthropist of the Year award can help the club take things to the next level.
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“Hopefully it puts us back on the map and people will know about us and start talking about us and want to bring their kids,” Meshulam said.
For more information about the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster, visit www.bgcwestminster.org.
If you go
What: Carroll County Philanthropists of the Year
When: 7 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18
Where: Martin’s Westminster, 505 Jermor Lane, Westminster
For tickets: Contact Jacie Mathias Jones at the Community Foundation of Carroll County at 410-876-5505, ext. 102.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story inaccurately named the church where the Boys & Girls Club was first housed in 2016.