Plans in the works to replace Boys and Girls Club programs

May 4, 2021

Various officials and community members are working hard to come up with a replacement for the programs offered by the Boys and Girls Club of Wareham, which closed abruptly 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 and Jowaun Gamble of Community Youth Empowerment, is working to figure out how to replace the club’s programs on a long-term basis. The group, along with Pastor Dave Ferrari of the Bridge Church, attended the Selectmen’s meeting on May 4 to keep officials apprised of their efforts.

Most likely, the group reported, Tavares will end up heading a new non-profit for the kids in Wareham, although Chadwick has reached out to see if Wareham could operate a Boys and Girls Club with help from either the Cape Cod or Nantucket chapters.

Tavares said she is concerned that it would take too long to figure out how to maintain the program as a Boys and Girls Club, which could interrupt programming. Gamble and Chadwick said they are ready to help come up with a new plan.

“I think the best bet is to start over and just worry about Wareham as a whole,” Tavares said.

Ferrari said he thinks the community can “dream it up ourselves.”

“I don’t mean to get pastoral on you, but many times our greatest problems are our greatest opportunities,” Ferrari said. “I think this is an opportunity for our community to do something great, and to have some vision for that building.” 

The YMCA has brought meals to the temporary program at the church, and Tavares is in talks with the schools to see if the kids could get help from tutors after school. Additionally, Tavares is working with the schools to see if the bus stop at the Boys and Girls Club could be moved to the church for the rest of the year. 

Tavares and Gamble have reached out to the Onset Bay Center to see if that center could help with some programming.

Town officials 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. 

Town Administrator Derek Sullivan said he had not received any official word from the New Bedford Boys and Girls Club beyond an “admonishment” about some of his comments last week.

The New Bedford club has begun to remove furniture and supplies from the building, including a water cooler donated by the Onset Bay Center and about $3,500 worth of covid-related cleaning supplies donated to the club by the Notos Group after the New Bedford club failed to supply them, Chadwick said.

Rob Mendes, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of New Bedford, told Wareham Week in an interview that the decision to close the Wareham unit was, fundamentally, a business decision. Mendes cited declining enrollment throughout covid and trouble staffing the club as contributing factors, along with issues with the building itself. 

Under the lease agreement with the town, the Boys and Girls Club is responsible for maintenance of the Hammond School, but Mendes said that with a ten-year lease, it didn’t make financial sense to invest much in the building.

Mendes said that the school district’s decision to stop allowing kids to be picked up at home and dropped off at the Boys and Girls Club during the pandemic made it harder for kids to get to the club after school, but said he hadn’t reached out to the district to discuss it.

Mendes said that there were some untrue things said during the Board of Selectmen’s April 27 discussion of the club’s closure, but declined to specify what was said that was untrue.

“There was no way that we could move forward at that point in a safe and effective manner, and I’ll stand by that,” Mendes said. “I’m sorry.”

Mendes noted that New Bedford took on the Wareham unit after being asked to do so, and ran programs there for fourteen years. He said he’s disappointed those contributions haven’t been recognized by the town.

Asked about the club’s abrupt closure, Mendes said that parents were given two weeks notice. 

Tavares, Chadwick, Gamble and Ferrari will come back before the Selectmen next week to discuss next steps.

“You have proven to me one more time that Wareham is an outstanding community, that you all care about each other, and you care about the town,” said Selectman Judith Whiteside. “I just want to say thank you.”

Tavares will be launching a Facebook page or group called “Onset Kids Block,” where she will post about any needed supplies or volunteer opportunities.