Christmas came early for dozens of Lakota students this week as they enjoyed a sneak preview of Ohio’s latest, cutting-edge youth club.
The 60 students took a school bus from the old Boys & Girls Club site on Smith Road in West Chester Twp. to the newly completed club building a few miles away in the Olde West Chester community.
In the rear-view mirror they left behind a tiny, cramped, make-shift club — formerly a daycare center — with an outdoor, dirt basketball court, smallish indoor learning and study rooms.
And they rolled on to the campus of a giant, $6.9 million, multi-storied youth club six times larger and a quantum leap in quality.
Their wide eyes took in the spectacular Boys & Girls Club in Southwest Ohio and their wider smiles showed they liked what they saw.
Later, Micalyn Davis, a Lakota sixth grader, cradled a basketball in the bright sunlight shooting in through the 30,000-square-foot building’s giant windows onto the club’s gym.
“This is what I asked for for Christmas,” Davis said smiling.
“I appreciate the people who paid for this and I’m going to give them a Christmas card for helping to take care of me,” she said.
A place for kids to feel cared for, but more importantly to dream and grow, was the mission behind building the massive youth center on the site of the former Lakota Union School on Cincinnati-Dayton Road.
The mid-week test opening for the school kids – off for a Lakota Schools’ holiday break – was the first time a large number of current club members got a chance to see the facility that will soon serve youth from both West Chester and Liberty townships.
Bridget Graber, Boys & Girls Club CEO, greeted the kids with hugs and high fives before they toured the building, which also includes expansive and colorful activity areas, a performance stage, study areas, classrooms, video studio with giant, special effects green screen, clinic, outdoor sports areas and a café with a juke box.
“This is really exciting,” Graber said. “This is exactly the moment we have been waiting for.”
When talking to the youth members at the old club site about taking a preview tour of the building, which officially opens Jan. 4, Graber said the kids excitedly viewed the opportunity through the prism of the Christmas holiday.
“One of the questions I got was ‘is this our Christmas present?’” she said.
“And I said absolutely. We brought them over to let them just experience the new space … and let them get excited and really feel the impact this building is going to have.,” she said.
Some of the children joined in a small presentation in the gym from one of the club’s many donors as representatives from local Taco Bells, in association with CTI Restaurants, presented Graber with a check for $17,755 raised by the local fast-food chain.
The club, which came about through a long-term leasing agreement with Lakota Schools for the former school campus at 8735 Cincinnati-Dayton Road, was years in the making and continues to fundraise from local businesses and individuals as well as pursuing state and federal grant money.
For more information on the new Boys & Girls Club and how to join or donate, go to www.bgcwcl.com or call 513-860-1923.