SOUTH BELOIT — Supporters of the South Beloit Boys & Girls Club will be comforted by the fact the club at 1161 Dorr Road wasn’t forgotten in the Stateline Boys & Girls Club’s current capital campaign.
Boys & Girls Club CEO Mark Rand says $500,000 from the $5 1/2 million project has been earmarked for updates and renovations at the existing South Beloit Boys & Girls Club.
“From the outset of our capital improvement project our focus was to make sure we put money into the South Beloit facility for its long-term sustainability,” Rand said. “The building has withstood the test of time a bit better than the one in Beloit. We feel like by putting money into renovations and updates it’s going to stay that way and extend its impact over the next 30 years.”
Fundraising for the South Beloit club will receive a boost on July 30 when a Casino Night Fundraiser is held there from 4-8 p.m. That night will feature the unveiling of a new name for the facility, honoring long-time unit director Bruce Nichols. The club will be known as the Bruce Nichols South Beloit Boys & Girls Club.
Rand has a special affinity for the South Beloit club. Born in Rockford, he moved to Rockton in the fourth grade and spent a lot of time as a “club kid” in South Beloit in the mid-1970s.
“It was all about acceptance,” Rand said. “I was a Rockton kid and I was accepted there. Midway through fifth grade we moved to Beloit and I virtually lived at the club there. But I never forgot how important the South Beloit club is to that community.”
Rand said the major facelift is long overdue.
“The last capital campaign was 1999 when it changed from the Boys Club to Boys & Girls Club,” he said. “When you’re running 100 to 125 kids in here every night, pre-COVID, that wears on a place.”
The improvements at South Beloit include a new parking lot, new HVAC unit, new flooring throughout, including the gyms, glass backboards in the main gym and all the ceiling tile replaced.
“There will be some updating in the lobby as well and new paint everywhere,” Rand said.
He said every effort is made to duplicate the opportunities offered at the Beloit club. He works with South Beloit Unit Director Meghan Moffett-Minter and Program Director Evelyn Garcia-Martinez.
“Both places have a computer lab. Both have gyms. Both have game rooms. Both have STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) labs. Part of the process is getting feedback from the kids. We evaluate what they like and don’t like. They vote with their feet whether they come through the door or not.”
In researching what was needed in South Beloit, Rand found a willing partner in Scott Fitzgerald, a current Rockton resident who spent much of his youth at the South Beloit Club and is a former board member. How effective an advocate he is for the club was evident a week ago when he appeared before the South Beloit City Council with a grant request for the club through the City of South Beloit Hotel Tax Funding Grant and after initially receiving $1,700 had the figure increased to $10,000.
“The major reason for getting Scott involved was because I know he still has a great sense of the pulse of that community,” Rand said. “You can’t fix a problem unless you know what it is. Some of the feedback from Scott doing his research stressed to our staff that the perception is that we’re not putting any money in the club or that it is going to close because they drive by and see weeds or the lawn unmowed. That’s on us as staff and volunteers. We have to make sure the exterior is presentable and we’re taking care of things. We want to take pride and take ownership in the place. The South Beloit community and kids deserve this.”
Fitzgerald has helped spearhead the South Beloit fundraising campaign using a large network of former members who believe in the long-term sustainability of the club. Many plan on attending the July 30 event when Nichols will be honored. To them, the club will always bring back fond memories.
Rick Kramer said one of his fondest memories was playing basketball at the club as a sixth grader.
“For some reason our coach couldn’t be there and Bruce asked Perry Range if he’d fill in,” Kramer said. “Perry and his high school team, those were our heroes. It was amazing. He had no idea how much that meant to us.”
Kramer went on to work at the club while he was in college.
“I did everything from mow the lawn to trim hedges to coach basketball teams,” he said. “It was a great experience. That place is a small town treasure.”
Pete Scalia, who sharpened his basketball skills at the club, now lives in Stillwater, Minn., and has three standout athletic daughters all playing collegiate sports. He will return for the dedication.
“My memories there are incredible,” he said. “I went there all week from 3 to 8 (p.m.) and then Saturday from 10 (a.m.) to 4 (p.m.). Then I’d stick around and play basketball with the older guys from 4:30 until 7. That was just such a big part of my life from 6 to 16 years old.”
Rand understands that to guys like Scalia, who frequented the club from the 1970s into the 1990s, the focus of the club has changed a bit.
“You talk to the old guard, the guys my age or maybe older, they grew up when it was a Boys Club,” Rand said. “They remember when the club was more sports-oriented. It has had to adapt to meet the needs of the community. There is still an activity piece involved, but there is also an academic help piece which is really needed.
“My hope, especially with this event getting a lot of these guys back, they will see some of the progress and renderings of what is going to be done here. At its core it’s still a place you learn how to get along with other kids, you learn how to make good decisions, you develop good character and leadership skills. It’s still that safe place for kids to go after school or in the summertime. It’s always going to be that.”