LACONIA — The Boys & Girls Club of the Lakes Region has successfully completed an effort to raise $500,000 in pledges for New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority tax credits, which will help it continue to make renovations to the former Saint James Episcopal Church, which it acquired as its permanent home three years ago.
Chris Emond, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central New Hampshire, said that the club faced a deadline of March 31 to obtain the pledges and was about $118,000 short less than a month ago when it started running an ad in The Laconia Daily Sun asking for assistance in meeting its goal. Companies which buy the credits receive a 75 percent state tax credit.
Thanks to a $100,000 pledge from CruCon Cruise Outlet of Moultonborough and additional pledges from AutoServ, Eastern Bank and The Laconia Daily Sun, he said the goal has been met.
"We've achieved that goal and are moving ahead with renovations and will continue to expand our programs," said Emond, who said that recently the club has extended its hours until 8 p.m.
"We serve about 100 kids a week, and on an average day there are 80 to 90 here. But we see having something for teens is one of the big needs we have in the city," said Emond.
This Friday night, the club will be joined by the Appalachian Mountain Teen Project in hosting the first Teen Night for students in grades 7 to 12. The event will feature a karaoke and open mic night theme, games and a dinner served by the New Hampshire Food Bank.
The club is currently working on the second phase of renovations to the former church, which will see the entryway to the building redone and a large reception area created at the front of the building as well as commercial upgrades to the the kitchen which will allow it to host an evening meals program. There will also be a new teen center, as well as updated homework and art rooms. The number of children being served is expected to increase from 86 currently to more than 150 next year.
Emond said that starting this fall, when the commercial kitchen is competed, the club will offer meals five days a week in cooperation with the Food Bank, which will be similar to a program offered in Concord which serves between 80 and 100 children a day.
The Lakes Region club as been affiliated with the Boys & Girls Club of Central New Hampshire for nearly two years but continues to have a separate board of directors. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Central New Hampshire, formerly the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Concord, was named the 2015 nonprofit of the year by Business NH Magazine.
The Lakes Region Boys & Girls Club is the successor to the Laconia Teen Center, which opened in the basement of the Laconia Community Center in 1999 and was founded following the murder the previous summer of 14-year-old middle school student Robbie Mills.
Laconia Assistant School Superintendent Bob Champlin organized a Saturday morning meeting to deal with the issues of violence shortly after the murder. Some 200 people showed up and a consensus was developed that a teen center was needed to provide a healthy place for teen activities.
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, and then at the former federal building on North Main Street, which is now owned and largely occupied by Lakes Region Community Services.
Three years ago, the club launched a $2.4 million fund drive to buy and renovate the church building; $700,000 for purchasing the building, $700,000 for renovations and $1 million for an endowment fund.
Those fund drives were aided by the efforts of Anthony and Gladys Sakowich, who were successful business pioneers, philanthropists and longtime residents of Governor's Island in Gilford.
Bob Smith, co-founder of the Sakowich Capital Trust, and Emond unveiled a plaque last fall with images of the Sakowiches which will grace the new entryway of what will be known as the Sakowich Building. The multipurpose room at the club is named for Robbie Mills, whose mother, Wendy, has been active in fundraising efforts for the club.
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