By Michael Sznajderman
For more than 50 years, the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club has been serving youths from Bessemer and Birmingham’s west side. But now may be the most exciting time in the club’s history.
Two years ago, the club launched its “Building Their Future” capital campaign to develop a new facility, adjacent to the Birmingham CrossPlex. In just a few months, club leaders will open the doors at the new Walter Howlett Jr. Clubhouse.
The new, bigger facility, which is nearing completion, will replace the club’s aging and overcrowded Kirkwood R. Balton Clubhouse, with enough space to accommodate up to 450 children and youths – nearly twice the capacity of the old clubhouse. The A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club serves more than 1,000 children and teens annually at three clubhouses and provides after-school transportation from 19 schools in the Birmingham school system.
The new clubhouse is named after Howlett, the former president and CEO of A.G. Gaston Enterprises and the club’s longtime former board chairman. A well-known businessman and civic leader, Howlett died in 2017 at age 68.
“Walter Howlett Jr. was a visionary,” said Frank Adams, the club’s CEO. “He was a tireless advocate for our club’s mission, which included positively impacting young people who needed us most, regardless of their circumstances.
“Walter never forgot the power a child has to change our world, and this new clubhouse was built with his legacy of community service in mind,” Adams added.
The new, 25,000-square-foot clubhouse will offer several features not available at the old facility, including a dedicated teen center, a café with a connected teaching kitchen and a permanent performance space. A multi-sport gym, game room, music and theater room, art room and administrative offices also are included, as well as an outdoor pavilion, teaching garden and a multi-sport “Dream Court.”
Adams said the first floor of the new clubhouse will be dedicated to the developmental needs of youths ages 6-12, while the second floor will serve teens ages 13-18 – with multiple spaces for them “to learn, explore and build bright futures.”
The new club is also in a more accessible location, and directly across the street from a neighborhood branch of the Birmingham Public Library.
Club board member Jonathan Porter, a senior vice president at Alabama Power, grew up going to the club’s Bessemer location. “I witnessed firsthand what the organization does in the lives of young people,” he said.
“One of their campaign slogans is, ‘Great Futures Start Here’ and I can attribute some of my success to things I learned at the club,” Porter said. “This new clubhouse will allow the organization to not only continue its mission but grow it.”
Alabama Power Vice President Terry Smiley serves on the club’s board and chairs its Advisory Council. He’s thrilled to see the progress and what it means for the children and teens who will soon occupy the new clubhouse.
“I am so excited about the impact the new facility will have on the youth in the Birmingham community,” Smiley said. “Every aspect of the club was planned with an emphasis on maximizing the experience for the youth being served. The new location provides greater visibility for the club and will hopefully attract more participants that will reap the benefits of its programs and offerings.”
Alabama Power and the Alabama Power Foundation have been longtime supporters of the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club, including the new clubhouse project. The Alabama Power Service Organization also has supported the club with volunteers.
“We have consistently supported this organization and its mission because we know the difference it makes in the community, which makes our state better,” Porter said.
Adams praised the company and its foundation for their commitment to the club.
“The dream of the Howlett Clubhouse is becoming reality that would not have occurred without partners like Alabama Power and the Alabama Power Foundation,” Adams said. “The support our club has received over the years enables us to peer into the future with great confidence and hope. Our team is excited about our continued shared vision for youth in our community.”
For more information about the Walter Howlett Jr. Clubhouse project, or to donate to the club’s Building Their Future campaign, visit www.aggbgc.org.