LACONIA — The Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region celebrated its move into its new home at the St. James Episcopal Church building Thursday morning with a Community Leaders Breakfast that included a visit from New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan.
Hassan praised the work of the local leaders who had worked to build the club and find it a home of its own and said that it sat an example for those youth that are served by its programs ''that with teamwork and effort anything is possible.''
Earlier this year the club agreed to buy the 1.3 acre church property and the church buildings for $700,000.
Two plaques were unveiled during the celebration, one which designates the current dining and function room at the church as the Robbie Mills Community Room and the second which recognizes Gladys and Tony Sakowich building, major donors to the club's building fund.
Laconia District Court Judge James Carroll said that the impetus for creating what was the Laconia Teen Center in 1998 was the murder the previous summer of 14-year-old middle school student Robbie Mills.
He recalled that Laconia Assistant School Superintendent Bob Champlin organized a Saturday morning meeting to deal with the issues of violence shortly after the murder and that 200 people showed up and a consensus was developed that a teen center was needed to provide a healthy place for teen activities.
Carroll, who was the Laconia Police Department prosecutor at that time, recalled that Judy Buswell helped write a grant for the Robbie Mills Foundation, which got the project going, and that a Teen Center opened in the basement of the Laconia Community Center in 1999.
Over the years the center relocated to Sacred Heart Church parish hall, where it became affiliated with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and later to Our Lady of the Lakes Church in Lakeport. Since earlier this year it has been housed in the old Federal Building on North Main Street, which is now owned and largely occupied by Lakes Region Community Services.
He said that thanks to the devotion of Robbie Mill's mother, Wendy, to keeping her son's legacy alive, the seed which would grow into the home for a Boys and Girls Club was planted.
Paul Gaudet, Sr, of the AutoServ dealerships in Tilton and Belmont, said that he has known Gladys and Tony Sakowich all of his life and that the Andover, Mass., couple, who owned a second home in the Lakes Region, are extremely generous.
''They are wonderful, caring people and huge givers,'' said Gaudet. He said that the Sakowiches, now in their 90s, were married at Our Lady of the Lakes Church in Lakeport in 1955 and have always felt close ties to the Lakes Region and wanted to leave something to the community.
He said that when he told them that the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region wanted to build a building of its own that the couple were eager to help.
''So I was sitting here with the check and didn't know what to do next. So I called Bob Smith (a Gilford resident who is also known for his charitable giving) and in three days he had a trust set up,'' said Gaudet.
The amount of the gift was not announced.
Earlier this year Cheryl Avery, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region, said the club had a building fund of about $300,000.
''This is our forever home,'' Avery told the audience, adding that the church is "an ideal location" for the club, just a stone's throw from Laconia Middle School and less than a mile from Laconia High School but also across the street from Opechee Park, with its beach, track and playing fields. The building houses a fully equipped kitchen and provides sufficient space for expanded programming for elementary and middle school students and dedicated space for teens.
The church provides 14,000-square-feet of space between the ground floor and half-basement and sits on a 1.3-acre lot together with a 3,000-square-foot bungalow that is unoccupied at present.
Some existing programs at the church, St. James Nursery School and Hands Across Table, a program that feeds those in need once a week, will not be affected by the change in ownership.
Avery said that the club will have eight program rooms downstairs and has a creative arts partnership with the Winnipesaukee Playhouse.
It will be accepting children from 5 to 18 into its programs and Avery said that that no child will be turned away because he or she cannot afford the dues.
Police Chief Chris Adams, who later this year will succeed Al Posnack as president of the board of directors, said that he is excited about the program possibilities for the new building and the role that the club will be playing in the community.
He said that there are many challenges facing the city of Laconia such as domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and child neglect.
''Who's going to stop this vicious cycle? We need an organization like this,'' said Adams, who urged people to get involved because ''it will be the most rewarding thing in your life.''
Sarah Palmer, a 17-year-old junior at Laconia High School who is also a staff member at the club said that the club was very important to her. She said that as an only child she started coming to the club and learned how to make friendships.
''It's become my second home and the club changed me. I'm not afraid of anything anymore.''