Richmond celebrates renovated Boys & Girls Club

The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club has been serving children in the East End of Richmond, Virginia, since 1920. The current building, located at 3701 R Street, first opened in 1971. The Salvation Army recently completed the first major renovation since that time.

Over the last 15 months, crews have been completing nearly $8 million in upgrades and an expansion of about 8,000 square feet of program space. Some changes at the facility include a renovated year-round indoor aquatics center, STEM studios, expanded teen center, updated gymnasium and the addition of community classrooms and a fitness studio.

“Our goal has always been to create a safe and empowering environment to provide children and community members opportunities to reach their full potential,” said Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club executive director Hugh Jones. “We believe this updated facility will help us deliver on that even better than before.”

In the coming months, the club will offer community usage outside of usual after-school hours to provide programming and resources to improve wellness in Richmond’s East End.

About 250 children came out for Tuesday’s Splash Day, where two former Olympic medalist swimmers encouraged kids to dream big, dive in and achieve in the renovated year-round indoor aquatics center.

Simone Manuel, two-time gold and two-time silver Olympic medalist and first African-American woman to win individual gold in swimming, and Maritza McClendon, Olympic silver medalist and first African-American woman to earn a place on the U.S. Olympic Swim Team, met with club members and invited guests from other youth organizations, participated in a Q&A and swam in a relay race alongside three of the club members.

“Facilities like this are so amazing. It’s so awesome that this area is newly renovated,” said Manuel. “It gives them an opportunity to come and have some extracurricular activities after school. It’s awesome that the pool is renovated and that they can learn how to swim, have a good time and make memories.”

McClendon says it’ll provide greater access to aquatics for the community.

“Back when I was swimming in 2004, 70 percent of African-American children didn’t know how to swim. Now we’re at 64 percent. Facilities like this are what’s going to make that statistic reduce,” said McClendon.

The special Investing in Futures fundraising dinner April 11 brought guests and sponsors together with current club members. The event also included a tour of the updated building, and guests heard from a variety of speakers. Funds raised through the dinner will be used to support club programs.

The mayor, school superintendent and school board representative were just a few of the dignitaries who attended the ribbon-cutting and dedication. One of the speakers, Richmond Sheriff Antionette Irving, said she learned to play basketball at the club, helping her to earn a college scholarship.

Mayor Levar Stoney emphasized the importance of having quality out-of-school time. “It’s my hope that we have the whole room packed 20 years from now of people who’ve walked through this door and are successes – not only in this city, but also in this world,” he said.

On Saturday, April 13, hundreds of people passed through the doors of the renovated Club during the Community Day open house celebration. Among the visitors were club alumni, current and prospective members, neighbors and volunteers. Several of the club’s program partners gave live demonstrations during the open house to give a better sense of what it’s like on a typical day at the club.