The Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa is rolling up its sleeves, and not just because the COVID-19 vaccines are on their way, but because it’s ready to get down to work and build a brand new clubhouse for children and youth living in one of the city’s most marginalized and underserved neighbourhoods.
The nearly century-old nonprofit organization is slated to receive $5 million in government funding to construct a 15,000-square-foot building on vacant city-owned property on Heatherington Road, off Walkley Road, in the city's south end.
The Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa (BGCO) opens new doors for young people, helping them to overcome barriers and build positive relationships in a fun and supportive environment.
“We’re really looking at expanding our impact in the city and helping as many people in the community that need help,” said BGCO chief executive Adam Joiner.
“We’re feeling very optimistic about the application,” said BGCO alumnus and board chair Stephen Beckta, owner of Beckta and its sister restaurants, Play food & wine and gezellig. “We’re hoping to have shovels in the ground this spring, with completion of the new building by the end of this year.”
The government funding covers the building costs while the BGCO is responsible for operating costs. The organization is looking to raise $10 million in donations to support long-term critical day-to-day operations and programming, and pandemic youth outreach initiatives. The BGCO runs eight clubhouses and satellite locations throughout Ottawa, along with an overnight summer camp.
Up until early last year, the organization was limited to serving between 100 and 200 youth in the Heatherington area due to a lack of space in the neighbourhood community centre. But during the pandemic, capacity dropped to between eight to 10 youth at a time.
However, the new clubhouse – which will offer a gymnasium, a proper community space, multi-purpose rooms, two kitchens and a dance studio – will have the room to serve more than 1,000 young people.
"This is going to be a space they can call their home."
“The kids in Heatherington are thrilled,” said Joiner, who has long and meaningful roots with the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa as a past member, volunteer, front-line worker and senior manager. “This is a dream come true. This is going to be a space they can call their home. It’s going to bring a fundamental change in that community, I think.”
The new building will become a hub for the youth and, to some extent, the broader public, he also said.
“We’re going to make sure the community has access to it, as well.”
One of the fundraising challenges faced by the nonprofit organization is its inability to hold in-person charity events due to the coronavirus pandemic. In recent years, the group has been the beneficiary of golf tournaments, downhill ski events, amateur boxing dinners, charity breakfasts and auction dinners. In 2019, the BGCO welcomed both an inaugural pub night and a new outdoor gala.
“The club, I would say, historically has been quite reliant on events as a prime vehicle for fundraising,” said Jonelle Istead, chief advancement officer for the BGCO.
During the pandemic, the organization has been placing more emphasis on direct-response fundraising, monthly giving, major gifts as well as grants and partnerships with other funding agencies, she said.
“We’ve had to bolster other fundraising channels.”
One tool that’s worked extremely well for the BGCO in recent years has been its naming of newly renovated clubhouses after its most generous donors. The group is hoping to attract naming rights sponsors for its new Heatherington clubhouse, too.
“We’re looking to members of the community who are interested in partnering with us,” said Istead.
The BGCO also hopes to repeat the success of its charity breakfast held last September. It saw hundreds of supporters break into smaller groups and watch a broadcast from different locations around the city, helping to raise $1 million. It will hold a similar event this Sept. 9.
Senior management at the BGCO is also working closely during the pandemic with the organization’s board of directors, many of whom have an extensive and successful background in business. “I feel genuinely lucky in my role to have them,” said Joiner. “Their skills are so diverse and they bring so much expertise.”
Last month, city council – with encouragement from south-end councillors Jean Cloutier, Diane Deans, Riley Brockington, and Mayor Jim Watson – recommended the proposed clubhouse project for funding through the federal and provincial COVID-19 Program.
All three levels of government have been “incredible" partners, said Joiner of ongoing support to help the club meet its building deadlines. “They recognize just as much as we do the importance of this clubhouse.”
City council previously launched a strategic initiative called Building Better Revitalized Neighbourhoods to improve certain areas of Ottawa. It consulted with Heatherington residents, many of whom were within lower socio-economic status groups, newcomers, immigrants and youth.
Youth were specifically mentioned as a group that needed targeted services to remain engaged, active and successful.