Community leaders propose long-term alternative to Boys and Girls club programs
The future of the Hammond School property is up in the air as community leaders work to propose a long-term replacement for the programs offered by the Boys and Girls Club of Wareham, which closed suddenly on April 30.
After-school programs are currently being held at the Bridge Church of Onset at 15 Highland Ave., and the church has agreed to host that program for the remaining six weeks of the school year. Those programs are being led by Shayla Tavares, who had been working as the de facto director of the Boys and Girls Club until its closure.
Tavares, along with Jared Chadwick of the Wareham Tigers, Jowaun Gamble of Community Youth Empowerment and Pastor Dave Ferrari of the Bridge Church, attended the Selectmen’s meeting on May 11 to present their vision for the Hammond School.
“We really felt there was a need for a central organization to be the administrator of the property,” Ferrari said. He explained that The Bridge Church of Onset has offered to fill that role, by “establishing a separate LLC that we’re calling the Hammond Community Youth and Education Center at the Bridge. It would be a separate nonprofit from the church with a separate mission, however it would be run and managed by the church.”
Ferrari said the LLC’s mission would be to provide residents of Wareham and Onset a “well-operated facility to serve the community through partnership with local organizations.”
He said the church is uniquely positioned to step into the administrative role of managing the property because it already has a proven track record of managing multiple properties.
The church would collaborate with Community Youth Empowerment, the Wareham Tigers and Tavares’ new Onset Kids Block group.
Ferrari said he felt the Hammond School building was “underutilized” in the past, before noting that he believed other “citizen-engagement programs,” including senior programs, could occur at the property.
“This new nonprofit that we want to start would be the organizational, operational structure,” he said. “It would provide management, it would provide the administration, facility maintenance and be the driving force behind the capital investment for remodeling and upgrading the facility, which we all know it desperately needs.”
Ferrari noted that he had no idea what a potential lease for the school would look like and said he had made no assumptions about it. Town officials said on May 4 that they are looking into how the Boys and Girls Club of New Bedford’s lease of the Hammond School could be terminated, and how soon that space would be available for the new program.
The main benefit to the church, Ferrari said, would be use of the facility on Sundays. Otherwise, the new nonprofit would have an entirely separate mission from the church.
“I really feel like the space is underutilized and that it can become a source of pride,” he said. “What we’re proposing is kind of the hub, and from that come a bunch of spokes,” which would be provided by Community Youth Empowerment, the Wareham Tigers and Onset Kids Block, among other organizations.
Gamble said he thought Community Youth Empowerment could continue to provide workshops for young people as well as community service events and opportunities. Gamble said the organization has provided a variety of workshops on topics including college applications, job readiness, mental health, voting rights and the impact of incarceration. Community Youth Empowerment also hosts events such as career fairs, a back-to-school supply drive and Onset Beach clean-ups.
“We would use the building and be able to really collaborate with the other programs [...] to facilitate these events and facilitate this work,” Gamble said, noting that it would be crucial to get Wareham schools involved.
Chadwick said the Wareham Tigers hope to use the Hammond School for their competition cheer program — which they expect will involve about 100 athletes in the upcoming season. In addition, the Tigers would host workshops along with the other organizations operating out of the building.
“I believe that all of our programs combined at this facility is just going to lead to a better future for all of the youths in our town,” Chadwick said. “With all our programs working together, nothing’s going to stop us. I think we’ll be phenomenal.”
Tavares explained that Onset Kids Block hopes to maintain community programs for families in Onset and Wareham. The group plans to provide after-school and summer programming “to ensure everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential regardless of life circumstances and challenges,” she said.
Tavares said she would create and supervise programs for children. She proposed a variety of ideas, including a cooking program, a chemistry program, tutoring, photography, a gardening club and a fine arts program.
“Some of these we’ve already run with the Boys and Girls Club, which I can carry over due to my connections with volunteers and other people in the community,” Tavares said.
She said the closure of the Boys and Girls Club was “kind of a blessing in disguise” that quickly brought community leaders together to create something “for Wareham that we run ourselves.”
The school district also expressed potential interest in using the Hammond School property for programs.
Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Shaver-Hood said school administrators have been in talks with the YMCA about a potential joint venture.
“One of the things that we were interested in pursuing is providing some opportunities for our students in the Onset area, but also opening it up to adults,” she said. “We’re looking at doing some adult programming.”
Shaver-Hood said there was also a discussion about expanding to include a preschool program at a location in Onset.
“We’re just in the beginning stages,” she said, noting that she’d talked with Ferrari and believed the other group was farther along in its planning. “We’re interested in doing what we can for our students in Wareham.”
Members of the Board of Selectmen listened to leaders discuss their proposals and praised everyone’s quick efforts and collaboration. Selectman Peter Teitelbaum said decisions about what would be done with the Hammond School would take time, and noted that the town hasn’t decided if it will require a proposals process. If it does opt to solicit proposals, the board would have to authorize the Town Administrator to put out a request for proposals, evaluate options and select one.
A major priority for the selectmen was creating a program with long-term sustainability.
“There’s a lot of options here, we just have to come up with something that everyone can participate in,” said Selectman Alan Slavin. “But, at the end of the day, something that can actually be sustainable not just for the next six weeks, but for probably the next 50 years, really.”