History of the Boys and Girls Club of Northern Westchester
In 1936, jobs in Mt. Kisco were scarce, opportunities for supervised recreation were sporadic, swimming took place in a series of forbidden mudholes; petty mischief and more serious offenses were a matter of general concern. In December 1936, a committee of local citizens was formed to explore the establishment of a permanent Club for boys. The opening date was set for March 1st, 1937. On the first day, 85 boys enrolled. By the end of the week, there were 115 members and, in less than a month, total enrollment was 225. About 70 boys attended the Club each day for a variety of activities including volleyball, boxing, ping-pong, baseball, handball, and horseshoe pitching. The following two and a half years at the new Club were a period of growth and consolidation. The organization was officially incorporated on October 3, 1939 as the Boys’ Club of Mt. Kisco.
In 1940, the Board of Directors felt confident enough of their financial status to purchase the Club’s building and grounds for $10,000. That year’s annual report announced, “Our organization is no longer in the experimental stage.” During World War II, many of the Club’s Directors as well as older Club members joined the military. Back at the Club, a victory garden was started, yielding 8 bushels of potatoes in its first year. In May 1947, there was a long debate on whether a juke box and a soft drink machine were appropriate for the Club. Both were installed to the immense delight of the boys. Shortly thereafter, television made its debut at the Club and was given credit for an average nightly attendance of 150.
The years following the war were very successful for the Club. An annual spring dance became an important local social event, raising about a third of the Club’s operating budget annually. By fall of 1951, the Club needed a thorough overhaul, and the community responded enthusiastically. Local businesses, carpenters, painters, masons, electricians and plumbers contributed materials and labor – evidence that the community, as well as the boys, placed a high value on the Club. When a universal call for programs for girls arose, the Club took action. By May, 1956, 212 girls were registered members.
The 60’s were years of growing attendance, broadening programs, and the introduction of a new element that changed the very nature of the Club – an indoor swimming pool. The only facility of its kind in the area, the pool brought users from miles around, and the Club continued to evolve from a social service agency for the underprivileged to a recreational center for all. More and more people, from more and more communities, thought of the Club as “Our Place.”
The 70’s saw continued growth at the Club, mirroring the growth of Mt. Kisco, whose population had increased by nearly 20% in the preceding two decades. By 1975, the Club offered supervised recreational activities to more than 2,500 boys and girls and about 1,000 adults. At the 1976 Annual Meeting, John Pyne became the first former Club member to serve as President of the Board of Directors, beginning a long history of Club alumni serving on the Board.
By 1980, the Club’s users ranged from preschoolers to senior citizens – more than 75% of whom came from beyond the village of Mt. Kisco. The Board of Directors began to think about the future of the Club – what had begun as a supervised hangout for boys in the 1930’s had evolved into a widely diverse enterprise. One by one, the old buildings had been torn down and replaced, the initial staff of one director and one assistant had grown to 12 full-time professionals and 50-60 part-timers. With the facility being used to capacity, the Board began to consider expansion.
In the 1990s, the Board called on Boys & Girls Clubs of America for help with a long-range plan and a building campaign. With the successful completion of an 18,000 sq. ft. building expansion and renovation project, the Club, now at 36,000 sq. ft., could easily serve thousands of youth members with a wide array of programming. A new eight-lane swimming pool, pre-teen drop-in center, teen center, expanded school-aged child care and pre-school child care program, administrative offices, and expanded parking area made the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Westchester one of the largest and most well equipped Clubs in the country.
Entering the new century – the 2000’s and beyond
With the new facility in full swing, the Board began to look at returning to the concept of a traditional Boys & Girls Club, concentrating on serving youth only, with limited or no fees. Unfortunately, the downturn of the economy forced the Club to close some satellite units and to continue charging program fees for those who could afford to pay. These belt-tightening actions were successful and the Club now serves more than 600 children daily, with a total membership of more than 2,000. We have been able to expand our programming while balancing our budget for the last three years.
In recent years, the Club has built two state-of-the-art outdoor playgrounds, improved the playing fields, built a new storage facility, purchased a house adjacent to the property, and installed an emergency access road. In addition, we established gardens for our member’s use and a community garden for families. By working closely with many other local non-profits and organizations, we have strengthened our community ties and are able to collaborate to provide the most comprehensive, yet cost-effective services for our members and their families.
Close to 70% of our members who attend daily live at or below the poverty line. We feed a hot evening meal to 200 children every day – and we send food home to their families on weekends. We help them with their homework and teach them the skills they need to succeed in school. We provide fitness and nutrition programs to keep them healthy. We show them how to be leaders and we regularly recognize their accomplishments. When our members step through our doors, they develop a sense of belonging – they are accepted and nurtured. And, when they are ready to leave, they step into the world as productive, caring, and responsible citizens. A recent national poll of Boys & Girls Club alumni showed that 81% feel a responsibility to give back to their communities. Most remarkably, 57% said “the Club saved my life.”
We will continue to evolve in response to the changing needs of our youth and our community. Once a child steps though our doors, he or she begins a journey of hope and opportunity. We take our responsibilities seriously. We believe that every child – no matter how challenging their life circumstances – deserves the chance to be great.