City's Boys & Girls Club gets new teen center

Two years ago, leaders at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Nashua spent an evening asking teens what they would want to see in a section of the club designed specifically for them. Among the things teens said they wanted was a fitness center and programs that would help with picking a college and a career path.

Standing in the club’s new teen center, which opened last week, Maria Miranda, a junior at Nashua High School South, said those at the meeting must have been listening.

“This is what we wanted to see,” she said.

The teen center, part of the club’s $4 million renovation of the entire building, was in full swing this week.

After school Wednesday, a group of teens was running on treadmills and lifting weights in the fitness center.

Another set of teens was making use of one of the flat screen TVs, playing “Guitar Hero.” Meanwhile, Shanara Covan, 14, and Kristine Blanchard, 15,were breaking in one of the new pool tables.

Before the 10,000-square-foot teen center was built, there was a room set aside for teens, but Blanchard said it wasn’t nearly big enough for everyone.

“It was very crowded and very loud,” she said.

The new teen center is much more open and bright, Blanchard said. She said she has also started going to a program called career lunches, where club leaders talk about how to pick a career path after high school.

Half of the club’s 4,200 members are teenagers. The official dedication and ribbon cutting for the teen center was Thursday.

Gov. John Lynch, who went to a Boys Club in Waltham, Mass., when he was growing up, was on hand and spoke about the importance of having a place for teens to go.

As he entered, Lynch said he asked the teens outside what they thought of the new place.

“They said, ‘This place is really cool,’ ” he said. “They are obviously already taking tremendous pride in this facility.”

Although the teen center is now open, the renovations are not yet complete. At Thursday’s dedication, Lynch announced that the club has been awarded a challenge grant of $500,000 from the Kresge Foundation.

In order to receive the grant, the community must match it through contributions and donations.

Leslie Sanderson, director of advancement for the club, said that $1 million would bring the club to the $4 million needed to complete the renovations in the rest of the building.

The teen center was dedicated to Dick and Ellen Stahl, of Hollis, who donated $250,000 to the project, which became the seed money.

The teen center is in the rear of the building on the lower level, where the Academy of Learning and Technology, the School District’s alternative school, used to be.

The space, now refurbished, in no way resembles what it did when the alternative school was there. There is a performance stage, recording studio, a cafe-seating area and a career and education center.

There is also direct access to the gym and pool, as well as locker rooms just for teens.

“It’s kind of an a la carte for teens,” said Norm Bouthilette, CEO of the local Boys & Girls Club. He pointed out that there are also increased security and energy-efficient measures within the facility.

The teen center is for members ages 13 through 18, but Bouthilette said the rest of the renovations would benefit the club’s younger members, as well.

In the rest of the club, the walls of the gym have been painted and the backboards have been replaced. There is also a new dance studio and arts room, along with several new meeting rooms.

The main games room on the first floor is in the process of getting a makeover.

Many local officials turned out for the dedication, including Judge Thomas Bamberger, who presides over the city’s youth drug court. His hope is that the teen center will help with many of the people he sees in court.

“This gives kids an opportunity to be around people who can give them inspiration and motivation,” he said.

Bamberger said the club is already heavily involved with court, working with teens who are trying to stay clean. Bamberger said their situations often improve when they become involved with the club.

Josh Ellison, teen director for the club, grew up in Nashua and was once a member.

“The club saved my life,” he said.

Ellison ended up joining the Marine Corps but eventually returned and took the position he has now, helping teens who are in the same position he once was.

Ellison said that since the opening of the teen center, the atmosphere has become very positive. The best part is the way the teens have responded as far as taking care of their new space, he said.

“The coolest thing I’ve seen so far is that they have a sense of respect for the place,” Ellison said.

He said the club has also been trying to do more outreach, visiting the schools and speaking with teens about what the club has to offer.

“We’re trying to recruit the kids that don’t normally come here,” Ellison said.

Rocio Camacho, a senior at Nashua North, has been coming to the club since she was 8.

Camacho, who was named the state’s Youth of the Year in 2008, says she’s a little jealous she won’t be able to stick around to use the new center, but hopes that it gets more teens to come.

“I think it’s going to invite a whole new set of kids,” she said.

Bryan DeLeon, a junior at North, said he’s most excited about the weight room. There is a weight room at the school, but that is mostly for the students who are on sports teams, he said.

Devonta Soto, a sophomore who goes to school in Chelmsford, Mass., but lives in Nashua, said he’d also be making use of the weight room.

“This gives me a place to come and stay out of trouble,” he said.