Brandon seeks recreation options for kids after Boys and Girls Club closes

BRANDON — The Brandon Boys & Girls Club permanently closed its doors late last month; it was two months after suspending operations.
Now there are just some empty rooms at 25 Rossiter St. to show for a grassroots community effort that raised $150,000 to start a Boys & Girls Club in Brandon just seven years ago.
But another local effort may be gaining momentum to try and fill the void left by the club.
Board members have cited steadily falling numbers among kids using the club over the last few years. There are reportedly eight children in Brandon being shuttled to the main club in Rutland.
Collin Fingon, chair of the Rutland County Boys & Girls Club board, said in a statement that the decision to close the club in Brandon was financial, and came at the recommendation of Executive Director Larry Bayle and his executive team.
“This choice was not an easy decision for us as the board,” Fingon said. “After several months and a great deal of work from the board, including studying the finances of the Brandon club and surveying and meeting with community members, it became clear that this was the best option for now.”
Fingon said that “the finances of the Brandon club have not been favorable in recent years,” and that “the current structure in Brandon wasn’t sustainable.
“The Boys & Girls Club of Rutland County remains financially sound overall and continues to work to improve the lives of area youth,” he added.
A July 8 posting on the Brandon Club’s Facebook page announced the suspension of services in the middle of the club’s summer camp program:
“With heavy hearts, we at The Boys and Girls Club of Brandon are sad to announce that we have closed our doors for the remainder of summer camp. We will be offering bus transportation to club members who wish to go to our sister site in Rutland … We are very sorry for any inconvenience this may cause you and your family. Sincerely, BGCB Staff.”
There have been rumblings of unrest for the last few years, issues on the steering committee above and beyond falling student numbers. Some committee members, including former steering committee chair and the building owner Christie Gahagan and Brandon Recreation Director Bill Moore, resigned in recent years for personal reasons. The club also went through several unit directors creating a lack of continuity at the helm of the Brandon club for staff and the kids.
In his remarks, Fingon also cited the fact that the club failed to retain long-term unit directors as part of the problem in establishing the club in Brandon.
“We haven’t really connected with the community that well, and unfortunately, there is still a huge need,” Fingon said in an interview last week. “We would like to thank the Brandon community for the support they have given us over the years. I would like for us to continue to be creative in offering services to the youth of Brandon and specifically work to find activities with the teens in that area.”
There is hope on that front, but it will likely be completely separate from the Rutland County Boys & Girls Club. In an interview last week, Moore said that group of local stakeholders recently met to discuss the feasibility of forming a youth group in Brandon to fill the void left by the boys and Girls Club, particularly for teenagers.
Moore said the group included himself, Neshobe School Principal Judi Pulsifer, Harvest Program Director Anne Young, the Brandon Police Department and Katie Wallet of Otter Valley Union High School.
“While the club shutting down in Brandon is unfortunate, it opens up another opportunity for the Brandon area to come up with a solution to help teens,” Moore said.
He added that said there has been discussion about establishing a teen center concept in Brandon that is possibly intergenerational and includes senior citizens as well. The center would serve meals five or six days a week and offer a range of community-driven programming.
Moore said that they hope to work with Gahagan to use the Rossiter Street building, which has a full kitchen, and invites any other interested local individuals or groups to join the conversation.
“We’re forming a committee,” he said. “We’re really trying to rally support. We’d partner with whomever. The focus will be on a community place for people to collaborate. Hopefully, there would be meals for kids. There could be meals for seniors. There are plenty of people interested in doing something to help.”
For its part, Fingon said the Boys & Girls Club will continue to serve the town’s youth and support all other organization’s efforts to improve the lives of youth. The Club will be transporting children from Brandon to other sites that the Club operates in Rutland County which include Hickory Street in Rutland City, Downtown Rutland and Barstow Memorial School in Chittenden.
For more information about the new committee, contact Bill Moore at 247-3635 ext. 213.

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