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NEW BOYS & GIRLS CLUB ALREADY FULL

With low-cost after-school options limited, the Riverview club meets a need.

The people who said for years that Riverview needed a Boys & Girls Clubs facility are finding out they were right.

And how.

Less than three months after opening, a new club on the Resurrection Catholic Church campus has about 120 youngsters enrolled and 30 on a waiting list, said director Fred Spencer.

Brad Baumgardner, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay, said the club filled up quickly, based mostly on word of mouth and enthusiasm from community leaders.

"The Riverview community has really wrapped their arms around us," he said.

Until its founders can raise enough money to enclose the outdoor pavilion and build more restrooms, the club can't accept any more children. Even so, the Boys & Girls Clubs organization is eager to show off its newest place for kids to go when school is out and no one is home.

In conjunction with the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce, the club is holding a grand opening at 11:30 a.m. today. Kids at the clubhouse this afternoon will hold their own ribbon-cutting party after the grownups are gone, including a hot dog feast and face painting, Baumgardner said.

The clubhouse includes a spacious lobby and five classrooms designed to accommodate what Spencer calls his "disguised learning program," or teaching through fun activities.

Many of those lessons will occur in the computer lab or the outdoor kitchen, where Spencer and four staff members will work with children to develop healthy meals and food handling habits.

Baumgardner said community leaders raised $1.6 million to build the club. It will take another $350,000 to $400,000 to enclose the pavilion, or covered basketball court, behind the club.

Tanya Doran, the chamber's executive director, said the club also will need money to keep operating. The chamber is accepting donations to the "Bricks of Hope" campaign to benefit the club. For $50 to $500, people can buy bricks of various sizes to be engraved with a company name or memorial message and installed in a walkway at the clubhouse.

Joe Garcia, a Brandon resident and Tampa lawyer who has helped to develop several Boys & Girls Clubs facilities, said the Riverview unit took 10 years to go from concept to concrete. The effort gained momentum in 2006 with a $750,000 bequest from the late Ray Campo, a philanthropist known for his generosity toward youth programs.

Efforts to match the grant stalled because of the economic downturn, Garcia said, crediting the Mabel and Ellsworth Simmons Foundation with providing much of the additional money needed for construction.

Earl Lennard of Riverview, former Hillsborough County public schools superintendent and current supervisor of elections, said he led fundraising efforts for the club because he thinks kids need its programs more than ever.

Parents whose children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches in the public school system get a discount on club services, including supervision, instruction and transportation.

Lennard and George Hunter, a Riverview lawyer on the local club's board, said the economic downturn has led to cutbacks in other low-cost after-school and summer programs. The same economic climate has forced more parents to work longer hours to keep households financially afloat, leaving a gap in child supervision.

"I've seen this community change tremendously in the past 10-plus years, and I've seen the need for a club," Hunter said. "When you have kids who don't have a place to turn to or a place to go, it can turn into trouble."

Lennard said the Boys & Girls Clubs program also provides academic tutoring and leadership coaching that help produce college-bound young people.

"If they are in the club, they are not on the streets, and if they are in the club, they have good role models," Lennard said.

For information about Bricks of Hope, call the chamber at (813) 234-5944 or the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay, (813) 875-5771.

Susan Marschalk Green can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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IF YOU GO

Grand opening

The Riverview Boys & Girls Club, at 6809 Krycul Ave., will hold a grand opening ceremony at 11:30 a.m. today in tandem with the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce. It will be followed by lunch and tours. The public is invited.

Up next:CRIME REPORT

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