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WATERLOO — Foundations and philanthropists have opened their wallets for a major Boys and Girls Clubs of the Cedar Valley expansion.

The organization, which has been serving the area’s at-risk youth for more than 50 years, is now reaching out to the community at large to finish off its fundraising campaign.

While the club initially sought to raise $4 million for a new teen center, remodeling the existing Lime Street Clubhouse and an endowment for future success, donors stepped up with $4.3 million before the campaign even went public last week.

The new target is $5.5 million.

“More money equals more kids being served, more often and in more impactful ways,” said Chuck Rowe, club director.

Campaign chairman Philip Nash, making the campaign announcement at the McLeod Center, marveled at the generosity of donors to date, including a $1 million lead gift from the Otto Schoitz Foundation and two major anonymous contributions.

“From (ages) 6 to 18, these kids are going to have a class A experience with the Boys and Girls Club that they’ll be able to go to every day on par with what any other kid gets in any other facet of their life,” Nash said.

“We really need to take this to the next level,” he added. “We’ve been such a good provider — we’ve built such a reputation in the community — that it’s time we start providing services to kids in that higher age level.”

University of Northern Iowa men’s basketball coach Ben Jacobsen and Kent McCausland are co-chairing the campaign.

The overall project includes about $3 million for the new Otto Schoitz Family Teen and Educational Center, a 12,000-square-foot building on East Fourth Street near East High School that will provide a space for teen club members.

Another $700,000 is earmarked to remodeling and improving the existing center at 515 Lime St., providing more room and more programs for the younger club members.

Finally, more than $1.5 million would be put in an endowment to provide ongoing annual financial support to the club and its facilities.

“We want to make sure that when we build this building it’s not going to be here today, gone tomorrow,” Rowe said. “We want this place to be here for decades.”

A key reason behind the project is the club’s growing membership, which has jumped from about 80 to 200 youths served each day at the club’s locations.

“Our current teen center fits about 20 to 25 kids in there,” Rowe said. “Anything above that starts going a little haywire. Right now we’re averaging about 40 a day.”

He believes the new teen center, which was designed in part based on a survey of high school students, will boost membership even higher.

“A lot of this has to do with kids who don’t come to the club already,” Rowe said. “There’s just so many teens that don’t go anywhere after school.

“One of the things that was important to (surveyed teens) was having a space that wasn’t connected to where the little kids are,” he added.

The fundraising effort has no shortage of success stories and is counting on former club members to share them during the campaign.

Gina Weekley, a former club member, spoke at the campaign kickoff about how the club was a safe space that kept her and her younger brother from falling into trouble like many others her age.

“The moment we stepped off the bus, we were at the club from the moment it opened until literally the time it closed that night,” Weekley said. “We were able then to believe in ourselves, that we could become something greater, and we did not have to become a product of our environment.”

The club hopes to wrap up fundraising efforts and break ground on the teen center in March, weather permitting.

More information about the project and how to donate can be found at www.togethercedarvalley.com.

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Waterloo City Reporter

Waterloo city reporter for the Courier

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