“Even in this seven-month period I feel a great sense of pride and honor to be here and help the club get back on its feet.”
Barbara Chesler is the interim executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of New Haven, who donated her time since March to help navigate the club back to serving the community.
“Just under a year ago we were about to close the doors here at the Boys & Girls Club,” said Chesler.
Community Foundation for Greater New Haven stepped in with a three-year grant for $125,000. Since last October, they’ve offered a free summer camp and opened a learning during a pandemic with help from some community sponsors.
“Even with just 50 children it is a significant cost compared to an after-school program that ran three hours a day,” said Chesler, who explained they now also have a full day of operating costs for the children in the remote learning hub.
So, Thursday night they’re hosting a virtual talent show featuring young members like 10-year-old twins Brandon and Max, who have been attending since they were 5.
“They’re nice, they help us with our homework, and they make us feel better when we’re sad,” said Max.
“We learn new things and meet new friends,” said Brandon. The pair will perform a dance they found on Tik Tok.
A’sani showed off dance moves she worked on with a staff member.
“I think that it would be fun and I could watch it with my family,” said A’sani.
In the age of COVID, the children pre-recorded their performances, as well as singer Angela Clemmons, whose voice has paired with the likes of Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson. Alisa Bowens-Mercado, of Rhythm Brewing Co. and Alisa’s House of Salsa will live emcee from her studio.
“I’m all set! I always say lights camera action,” said Bowens-Mercado. “I’m just excited that we get to see the talent of the kids.”
She says the event builds faith and lets people know that the safety and security of local children are still a priority.
Saving the club also means a lot to Jesse Campbell who joined when he was 5. He’s now and a UConn freshman, and the 2019 youth of the year.
He works at his former club, crediting the center for life experiences, his first job and countless memories.
“I want kids to be able to take more away from the club than just being here and just doing work but having a fun learning environment as well as being able to give back to the community,” said Campbell.