Title - Kevin Lajoie
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Building a new home for youth in a familiar gathering place
Kevin Lajoie

Building a new home for youth in a familiar gathering place
The Boys and Girls Club of Cornwall SDG recently opened their new clubhouse on First Street East in the former Church of the Good Shepherd.
PHOTO CREDIT - OurHometown.ca

Cornwall - Mar. 16, 2011 - It's Friday and a group of officials from the Boys and Girls Club of Cornwall SDG are busy preparing for the March Break opening of their new First Street clubhouse.

In one section of the expansive building, a worker discusses membership details with a visitor. Elsewhere, a group of young people are busy moving new tables - they're actually the old ones from the St. Lawrence College cafeteria - into one of the main hangout spaces of the new clubhouse.

The scene perfectly captures what the Boys and Girls Club is all about - creating a safe, comfortable place for youths with the help of the community.

Their new clubhouse, in the beautifully restored Church of the Good Shepherd, is a perfect example of community building. The 125-year-old building served as a gathering place for religious events and other community functions for generations, and it is now ready to serve that purpose once more. Support from the community - both government and private sector - was key in making the youth centre a reality.

The fully-accessible building is essentially split into two sections, with the north section (which was home to Dempster's Frameworks) serving as the hub of activities for youths between the ages of 6 to 12. The old hall area is also equipped with a brand new kitchen that will likely be used for cooking and meal programs, and officials plan to rent the space out to other community groups for meetings and functions.

The church side has been revamped, however much of the structure's original features were maintained in the renovation. The church section will be used for programs and activities for teens. Executive director Jacquie Richards said they plan to consult with teens on the programs and activities that they'd like to see offered in their new space.

"We want them to have a say in what they want (to have at the centre)," Richards said.

Richards believes the new clubhouse is ideally situated, given its proximity to several city high schools and a large portion of the city's population. She's hoping local youths will embrace the centre and see it as their own place.

The new clubhouse is just one branch of the Boys and Girls tree. The organization also runs a clubhouse on Henry Street along with after-school programs in several elementary schools in the city. All told, Richards said they already offer about 80 hours of programming each week, and that doesn't include the recently-opened clubhouse.

Last year, the organization had 500 members, and Richards said they're hoping to exceed that figure in 2011. Membership is $25 per year, however Richards said they ensure the fee doesn't act as a barrier for families who may not be able to afford it.

Meanwhile, as the memberships continue to roll in and the programs take shape, Richards and her crew will continue building the new clubhouse with the help of the community. Right now, they're asking residents to cast a vote of support for their bid to secure a $10,000 grant through the Pepsi Refresh Project. The money will be used to purchase furniture, electronics and other items for the new clubhouse. Voting ends on April 30.

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