By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Not even rain could stop a bright and festive occasion on Wednesday as a ribbon cutting and celebration was held for the opening of the new A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club facility in the western area of Birmingham.
The new Walter Howlett Jr. Clubhouse, named after A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club’s former Board Chairman, Walter Howlett Jr., is located next to the Birmingham CrossPlex, will replace the overcrowded, aging Kirkwood R. Balton Clubhouse located at South Park Drive.
“When Dr. Gaston laid down the marker in 1967 to open a club, he was very clear that it is the responsibility for all of us to give back no matter how successful you are,” said Frank Adams, CEO. “… when he set that standard and opened his then Boys Club, he moved on to say we need to do more for our kids and make it more impactful… Fast forward to today when you look at what we’re trying to accomplish, it really goes back to the concept of a village center.
The ribbon cutting for the $7.2 million facility was attended by Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin; members of the Birmingham City Council; Jim Clark, President and CEO of Boys and Girls Club of America; John Hudson, Alabama Power Company executive and 2017-2018 Board Chair; Georgia Godfrey, office of Condoleezza Rice, PhD. and other civic and community leaders.
“You always have a place in your community that is focused on the needs of children and that is the heart and essence of who we are,” said Adams.
The Howlett Clubhouse will increase capacity for an average daily attendance to 450 children and youth and will offer several new features including a dedicated Teen Center, a café with a connected teaching kitchen and a permanent Performance Space.
The 25,000 square-foot facility is specifically designed for program efficiency and safety for the youth of Birmingham. The first floor of the new clubhouse will be dedicated to the developmental needs of youth ages 6-12, while the second floor will serve teens ages 13-18.
Woodfin said he remembered the ground breaking about a year ago and “we are back again with many more smiles, excitement and energy to open this clubhouse,” he said. “. . .this investment is not necessarily about brick and mortar or a building, it is more so about the commitment to our youngest generation, making sure they have a safe space, that we pour into them and they receive support from adults who understand what it means to take the time to give to them. There is no better space.”
Godfrey, who spoke on behalf of Rice, a Birmingham native and long-time supporter of the Club, said the Birmingham facility is one of the special ones around the country.
“We work with communities around the country . . . the kids here are so cool, they have so much energy and excitement and every time we walk into any of the club events here, we leave so inspired and that’s what makes it special is we’re changing lives, changing courses of trajectory and we’re making an impact.”
Clark said he was honored to be in Birmingham “to celebrate such an incredible occasion.”
“If you think about our youth, they are a mere reflection of what tomorrow is going to look like,” he said. “. . . I’m enthusiastic and optimistic about what the future of this country will look like. These are the doctors, lawyers, politicians, businessmen and women that will lead this country to greatness thanks to what will happen inside those doors of this incredible Boys and Girls Club.”