NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) – A few months ago, the Boys and Girls Club’s game room in Building C of the Thames River Apartments was just a storage room with a concrete floor.

Last Tuesday afternoon, the room – now painted blue – was bustling with children from the club’s summer camp playing foosball, pool and Battleship. Outside, others played ball or jumped rope.

“Cinderella dressed in yellow, went upstairs to kiss a fellow,” club staff members chanted as children jumped rope, at one point five at a time. “Made a mistake and kissed a snake. How many doctors did it take?”

Eight-year-old Sincere Seales jumped the longest – until club staff counted to six (as in, it took six doctors to help Cinderella out of her predicament). Those challenging Sincere’s feat did not quite make it, faltering at count one or earlier.

The Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Connecticut’s new site, which opened on July 7 with 10 paid staff members, is where one might not expect it – inside the city’s biggest public-housing complex.

Already, it’s thriving, with 50 children ages 6 to 11 signed up for the summer camp and 17 children ages 12 to 18 in the teen program, said Ellen Roman, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Connecticut.

Programs for the summer are themed by week and include offerings through partnerships with area organizations such as Kente Cultural Center, the Connecticut College Arboretum, Ocean Beach Park and Mystic Aquarium.

Teens participate in drug, alcohol and sex-safety prevention programs and learn how to access resources and make smart decisions. A computer room currently being set up will hold computer classes for children and adults, Roman said.

The club will run programs year-round for city children who pay a fee to become club members. The contract with New London Housing Authority and Front Porch Foundation, a nonprofit created by the housing authority tasked with providing programs and services for public-housing residents, is for a three-year period.

The housing authority renovated storage space for the club to use, painting each room a bright color, and is charging just $1 a year in rent, Roman said. The apartment complex is the only permanent site for the local branch of the national club. The program in Groton is run out of the schools there, Roman said.

“We’re just thrilled,” Roman said of running the club in New London. “We wouldn’t have been able to do this if housing hadn’t provided the site.”

Joseph Abrams, executive director of the housing authority, said the value of the club in New London outweighed the need to charge rent. When Abrams assumed his current position in 2006, his vision statement included establishing a Boys and Girls Club to serve children in public housing.

“I’ve witnessed Boys and Girls Clubs in housing developments, and the fact of the matter is, they work,” Abrams said. “They help to provide a more stable environment for children.”

That’s important in an apartment complex where about 200 of the 350 or so residents in the complex’s 124 units are children ages 18 and under, said Lisa Sullivan, director of Front Porch. And the interest was there: parents of 35 children signed up for the club in the first 53 minutes of a recruitment session, Roman said.

The club’s presence has quickly become a source of pride for housing residents and the housing authority, which is continually working to improve the quality of life for its residents and change public perception of city-managed housing.

The Thames River Apartments, commonly known as the Crystal Avenue high-rises, have a troubled history riddled with murders, vandalism and drug use. The housing authority, under Abrams’ leadership, has started to turn things around, renovating apartments, filling vacancies and providing a safer, more sanitary environment for its residents.

Last year, the apartment complex became host to a new food bank and opened the Front Porch Early Childhood Center. Abrams said the housing authority just signed a contract to revamp the security system in the housing complexes.

“We saw Boys and Girls Club as another tool by the housing authority to help diffuse any problems that have been in existence there,” Abrams said.

Sullivan, of Front Porch, said the club’s presence also helps her organization’s mission to open up the housing complex to the New London community.

“Many people, for a long time, have not wanted to come into the (complex),” she said. Introducing the community to the complex through the Boys and Girls Club helps “to reduce the barriers that the residents have” from the rest of the city, Sullivan said.

Kori Cole, the club’s area director working at the Thames River site, said she was excited to learn the club would be opening up a site at the housing complex where she grew up.

“The kids, they need something like this over here to keep them busy,” Cole said.


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