New London Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club celebrates new space
Published May 12. 2022 8:18PM | Updated May 12. 2022 9:40PM
By Greg Smith | Day staff writer
New London — The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club of New London welcomed the public into its newly renovated space on Thursday, during a ceremonial grand opening for a program that serves at-risk youth and eases the burden for working parents.
The after-school program is housed at 11 Gov. Winthrop Blvd. and is the continuation of some of the free services offered by the Boys & Girls Club of Southeastern Connecticut, which had a 20-year run in the city but disbanded in 2018 after the closing of Thames River Apartments on Crystal Avenue.
The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club opened in the fall of 2019 with modest offerings but with plans to expand and make use of more of the space at the Salvation Army's downtown building. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit months later, the program was shut down because of safety concerns.
Salvation Army Capt. Brandon Gonzalez-Cottrell, who arrived in New London with his wife, Adriana, in 2020, said the Salvation Army used the pandemic time to meet virtually with children and create a plan to renovate the out-of-date space with more opportunities for the children.
On display Thursday was a fully renovated upstairs space with a new rug, freshly painted walls, a reading nook, new tables for homework and games that include basketball, table tennis and air hockey. There is also updated Wi-Fi and new computer software. Outside there was a DJ and carnival games for the dozens of kids in attendance.
“I hope you feel the love that’s been poured into our renovated club,” Gonzalez-Cottrell told the crowd gathered outside on Thursday.
“Parents simply need a safe space for their kids while they work to provide for their family,” he said. “We are providing an additional layer of support and an additional layer of trust.”
Gonzalez-Cottrell said the program is at its maximum limit, with 45 children signed up, but the organization hopes to expand to satellite locations in the future. He said at least 35 children, from kindergarten through sixth grade, show up for the free after-school program on a daily basis. More information about the program is available at bit.ly/sabngclub.
In addition to help with homework, there are structured programs that include visits every Monday from staff members of the Mystic Seaport Museum. There are also character building and Christian-based programs.
Mystic Seaport Museum educator Margaret Job said the groups of children have visited the Seaport several times and a group recently went for boat rides. Only two in the group had ever been on a boat before that, she said.
“They loved it,” Job said. “They have been so polite and so excited and appreciative ... a nice bunch of kids.”
For working mothers like Shanda Easley, a safe and affordable space for her children after school is a necessity and not so easy to come by. Easley is a mother of three and her youngest child, 11-year-old R.J., has been involved with the program since its inception.
“This feels like family, it’s got that feel,” Easley said. “He’s not just another number here.”
She said her son is thriving, interacting with other kids and even picking up some Spanish.
In addition to the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club, the Salvation Army operates an emergency food pantry along with church services at its Governor Winthrop Boulevard location. For more information, visit bit.ly/sanlcorps.
Photos courtesy of The Salvation Army