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Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary evolution celebrated in renovated building

It’s no longer just a club in the basement of a hotel used to manage the delinquency of adolescent boys by giving them an after-school place to box while their dads fought in World War 2.

After 80 years, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary (BGCC) are so much more.

Now, the group is celebrating its eight decades serving Calgary youth with their newly renovated Renfrew building. The long-time Calgary social organization held celebration last week to commemorate the $1.7 million project’s opening.

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Elsbeth Mehrer, Chief External Relations Officer for Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, said much of the organization’s evolution is captured in the new space.

“The project was very much a meaningful opportunity this year to declare a new day for this organization,” Mehrer said, noting that the location, the site of the historic Rutledge airport hangar, was used mainly for admin and storage space.

“We said, ‘Listen, we’re always desperate for space to program with kids. And here we are using this best possible location for work that could happen elsewhere.”

Renfrew building created unique spaces to reflect diverse clientele

The new kindergarten space at the BGCC Renfrew building. CONTRIBUTED

For this project, they worked with Calgary’s Ryan Murphy Construction to come up with a space that reflected the diverse range of youth they serve today. The Renfrew space was created in consultation with the Indigenous Elders’ Council and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community to ensure there were spaces that respected each groups’ needs.

That’s one of Mehrer’s favourite aspects about the new building.

“It sounds really ridiculous, but it’s the small touches that will mean something to the people who are looking for or noticing that particular thing,” she said.

The example she gave was the gender inclusive washroom; one that provided a degree of visibility so users could see if others were using the space already.

“But in this day and age, I think whether we’re talking about representation for LGBTQ population, or we’re thinking about land acknowledgement for Indigenous folks, and the thoughtfulness about which way a door faces, those are things that for the people who know, are really meaningful,” Mehrer said.

“And I’m really thrilled that those types of things are in the building.”

In 2018, BGCC worked with 4,500 Calgary and area youth and another 470 adults and caregivers. The work was done through 35 different programs that help kids from preschool age to high school and then early adulthood.

Today, BGCC provides full suite of professional services

While 80 years ago it was a place to keep boys occupied, and administered by volunteers, today it’s a full-service operation with a suite of professionalized support services for all young people. They now see marginalized youth, young people experiencing homelessness, those needing job support and others hoping to graduate from school.

The Boys and Girls Clubs have taken on a lot more than their name implies. Mehrer said that in a lot of ways the organization has outgrown its name. She said they are starting down the path of exploring different brand options.

“One of the things that we need to do within that, is, A, how do we make sure that, that the name is thoughtful about the breadth of the work that we do, is inclusive and reflective of the young people we work with, many of whom are not boys or girls for all kinds of reasons,” she said.

“And also, how we’re thinking about how we honour the tradition of this organization.  We need to think about how we respect the fact that over 80 years, we’ve touched the lives of tens of thousands of Calgarians.”

Boys and Girls Clubs’ future relies on keeping up with emerging trends

As the organization charts the next five, 10, 80 years, Mehrer said the ground is constantly shifting and they’re trying to stay ahead of the game. Young people are coming to them with more and increasingly complex problems.

She said mental health is near the top of that list, along with addiction. In addition, preparing young Calgarians with tools to work in an increasingly automated world, and what the impact of technology is on their individual brain development.

“So it’s about sensing those trends and those movements as they’re coming, and then running back to make sure we’re part of helping to solve them,” Mehrer said.

“One of the things that is so remarkable about the Boys and Girls Clubs, and many social service organizations, is that you endure over the decades by adapting and changing and by being responsive to the needs of the community. And that’s very true here.”

The Boys and Girls Clubs building renovation was funded partially through capital reserves but they continue to seek donor support for the project. The project began in January 2019 and was open for programming through July.