When a handful of businessmen started the Boys Club of Trenton in 1937, they did not dream that it would grow from one small clubhouse at the Reservoir Club in the City of Trenton to two community centers – one each in Lawrence Township and the city.
Those businessmen also could not have imagined that the club – renamed the Boys & Girls Clubs of Mercer County in 1988 to acknowledge girls’ participation in it – would grow to serve 2,600 children at the two community centers and 10 after-school sites in Lawrence Township, Ewing Township and the City of Trenton.
They would also be surprised to learn that the offerings have expanded from camping, sports, wood-working, games and summer camp to a focus on education, college access and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
But as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Mercer County celebrates its 85th anniversary, that’s where it is headed, said Reggie Coleman, the CEO, who joined the organization in 1998. He took over as CEO in July.
“We focus on turning our kids into solid citizens. The goal is to help them do well in school, to prepare them for college and to get them ready for life as well-rounded adults,” Coleman said.
The social, enrichment, educational and recreational activities include STEM, homework help, healthy snacks, mentoring, college prep, sports and career counseling during the after-school programs at the two community centers and the after-school sites, Coleman said.
“The kids have access to nourishing snacks, which is part of a program to teach them about building and maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” he said.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Mercer County has its origin in the Boys Club, which was created in 1860 by three women in Connecticut, Coleman said. The purpose was to encourage character development. The concept spread and by 1906, there were 53 Boys Clubs in other states.
In Lawrence Township, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Mercer County works out of the Spruce Street Community Center. The 35,000-square-foot community center opened on Spruce Street in 2015 and serves children in grades K-12, Coleman said. It was opened to better serve the growing number of children who live in Ewing and Lawrence townships near the Spruce Street center.
Children who attend the Eldridge Park School and the Slackwood Elementary School in Lawrence are bused for free to the Spruce Street Community Center, he said. Students from Ewing and Hamilton townships and the City of Trenton also are bused to the Spruce Street facility.
At the Spruce Street Community Center, there are classrooms for computers, cooking and games, plus a new garden where the children can grow vegetables, Coleman said. Similar facilities are offered at the Centre Street Community Center in Trenton, which serves children in grades K-8.
STEM programs are among the highlights of the group’s offerings, he said. Past projects include 3D printing, engineering design, computer programming, soldering and circuitry. Local corporations also visit the clubs and offer programs that help students explore STEM-based college and career fields.
Earlier this year at a virtual STEM event titled “Bubbling into Summer,” children at the two community centers watched as several Thermo Fisher Scientific employees explained the science behind bubble-making, Coleman said.
The employees explained how to make the best bubble solution, he said. It also included a career panel with three Thermo Fisher Scientific employees who work in the STEM field, Coleman said.