Lower federal grant challenges Boys & Girls club

VERGENNES — A smaller-than-expected annual federal grant award has left the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes scrambling in the middle of its fiscal year and will probably mean closing the club’s center for younger members.
Club executive director Mike Reiderer said when he and the organization’s board sat down and came up with this year’s budget, they had counted upon the same roughly $100,000 bequest from a federal program that had been awarded in the past two years.
Instead, the club learned last week that cuts to a Department of Justice program that funds the national Boys & Girls Club organization — money that then gets passed through to local clubs — meant it would receive just $30,000.
That $70,000 shortfall represents about 25 percent of the Vergennes club’s annual $275,000 budget, and it arrives midstream.
“We don’t have the luxury of looking six months down the line and making adjustments,” Reiderer said. “We’re going to have to make some quick adjustments.”
Reiderer and the club’s budget committee met last week, and the club’s board will meet this week. Reiderer said the club’s elementary school program, which rents space in the Masonic Lodge a block west of Main Street, will probably be lost.
“We’re obviously going to have to make cuts. And we’re looking at the potential there,” Reiderer said. “We’re very likely looking at closing our youth center.”
That move will mean the painful loss of two part-time jobs, one at 25 hours and one at 20 hours a week, plus modest savings to the club in rent, insurance and other program costs.
“I’d like to think there’s some other solution out there, but it’s not looking like it,” Reiderer said.
There are good reasons for choosing the youth center to cut rather than the School Street teen center: Most of the club’s grant support focuses on helping at-risk teens and is specific to the teen center, and the teen programs have been doing well.
Reiderer estimates the average daily attendance at the center has risen from about 15 in the 2011-12 school year to about 20 this school year.
“We’ve had some great success with the teen center. We’re seeing increased teen attendance since last spring,” he said.
Reiderer also believes the club continues to be a positive influence on its teen members.
“Socially, we see a tremendous impact in virtually all the kids we serve,” he said.
There is not room at the teen center to absorb all the elementary school kids from the youth center, but Reiderer and the board will discuss expanding the teen center’s age range, possibly to as young as 10, “to serve some of those kids.”
The club will also continue to try to reach elementary school students through programs in the three local elementary schools, he said.
The other half of the equation for the club is trying to raise more money. According to its annual report, the club expected to receive about $180,000 in federal and state grants this year, a figure that represented 65 percent of its budget.  
The club’s revenue stream also included about $33,000 each from the United Way and combined individual, business and foundation donations and grants; about $16,500 from its own fundraising events; and a little more than $8,000 from membership fees.
Reiderer said the club would try to grow donations through local outreach.
“We want to work on some aggressive fundraising here and see what we can make up from that lost amount, turn back to the community and see what we can get back from those lost resources,” he said.
Part of the plan includes holding an open house this month at the club at a date that will be announced soon.
“We’re working on plans for a community awareness kind of thing, getting people together to talk about the club, remind them we’re here, let them meet the kids, meet the parents,” Reiderer said. “The community has been quite supportive … but we’re really looking for the community to pick it up a notch.”
In the long run, Reiderer is confident the club will still be able to help Vergennes-area teens despite last week’s tough financial news.
“It is going to force us to look at the way the club is structured and the services we provide,” he said. “We’re going to be able to regroup and continue to serve the kids.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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