A crowd of more than 150 people packed the Gerding Builders Gym at the Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis on Tuesday for a festive and emotional celebration of the club’s expansion.
“What an incredible day this is for our town and our community,” said club CEO Helen Higgins. “I’m at a loss for words. This is a dream for teens and families that I have had in my mind since took the job 11 years ago.”
The $6 million expansion will add 20,000 square feet of space for the club’s teen program, with the Dr. Ken and Dot Johnson Center for Youth Excellence allowing the club to double the number of teens it serves, from 150 to 300.
The fundraising campaign, said co-chair Steve Uerlings, is within $800,000 of hitting that $6 million mark. The next step is to raise $4 million more for operations of the center.
“We’re putting the services where the kids are,” said Higgins.
A key facet of the expansion is a new mental health services component, adding to the free and low-cost dental service, which has served 6,000 individuals in the past nine years.
The dental program was the brainchild of retired dentist Ken Johnson, whose name will be on the new building. Johnson, 79, was on hand Tuesday singing “It Was a Very Good Year” and telling a story about how his father took him aside at breakfast at the age of 13 to encourage him to live a life that would “make a difference.”
Johnson also noted the perfect record of the current teen program: All of its participants have graduated from high school.
“The strongest communities are the ones in which everyone is a player,” said Greg Hamann, board president of the club and president of Linn-Benton Community College. “The model is already there. The students are succeeding. And with more resources we can help even more students succeed.”
Hamann also told a story, of growing up in Minnesota and never having to go home to an empty house because someone was always there. Of how going to college was an expectation instead of an option.
“I’ve been in education for 36 years,” Hamann said. “The world has changed, and growing up has changed. More and more of our youth lack the support to get there. That’s where the Center of Excellence comes in. Supporting our youth doesn’t end when they become teens. It is even more important then.
“The club is not just a place for teens to go. … it’s part of a pathway on the way to their future.”
Ken Pastega, representing the Mario & Alma Pastega Family Foundation, recalled coaching Boys & Girls Club teams in the 1980s “when this facility was just a dream.
“My grandchildren come here now. That is exciting for me. That’s a generational experience that many other people have had as well. We consider the Boys & Girls Club an investment. We all should be proud of this facility and the expansion project.”
Tim Euhus, who shares fundraising chair duties with Uerlings, told a story of his days coaching at Oregon State University and being surprised at the mental health needs of a pair of high-visibility players.
“What about everybody we don’t see on the front page of the sports section?” Euhus asked. “Who is going to help them? I challenge you to be part of this. Stretch yourself.”
Then he pointed toward the expansion site and said: “You can get the road out there named after you. It’s only $60,000. If you can’t do that, take a tour and bring a friend. See what goes on each day to inspire kids to better themselves.”
Then the crowd headed outside to the groundbreaking on the lawn to the west of the club. A few sprinkles fell. A drone with a video camera buzzed overhead. Groups of expansion campaign participants, board members and club staff took turns donning helmets and shoveling dirt into a pot that contained a young vine maple from Garland Nursery; Higgins said the maple will be planted in the courtyard of the new building.
“Woo-hoo!” said Higgins as she encouraged more folks to shovel dirt into the pot.
“Woo-hoo!” is what Higgins says when things are going well. Tuesday was a good day for the Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis, which hopes to open the facility next summer.