For the Boys & Girls Club of Bowling Green, the days of struggling to cater to the community’s teenagers are over.
On Wednesday, dozens of community members gathered at the new Harold & Juanita Koon Teen Center for a ribbon-cutting.
Speaking in front of the center’s snack area, Boys & Girls Club CEO Liz Bernard said she was thrilled the center on Scott Way is finally complete.
“Three hundred and sixty-six days ago, we were all here, breaking ground on this facility, and I think it’s really awesome that we’re back here a year later and it has all come full circle and you all get to see this phase and help us officially open it to our community,” she said.
The teen center includes a gym with a basketball court, pool table, video game consoles and computers.
Bernard said the teen center will have a massive impact on the Boys & Girls Club’s efforts going forward, and she considers the center’s construction one of the greatest accomplishments she’s ever been involved in.
“I’m just getting to that point where I’m starting to reflect about things and I know that this project, when I am at the end of my life and I look back on the good things that I got to be a part of, this will be one of my proudest moments,” she said.
During her speech, Bernard credited D.C. Clement, a member of the Boys & Girls Club board and a past president of the board, with making it all possible.
Clement said he wasn’t the only person at the time who was aware of the need for a center specifically dedicated to the community’s teens.
“About five years ago, I was in my last year of that position of being the board president, and, you know, we really just sat down and looked at how could we serve more youth in the community, especially the teen area, because there’s no after-school programs for the teens other than here and that group really is the most vulnerable, the most at-risk,” he said.
At the time, the Boys & Girls Club could only serve about 25 teens at a time, Clement said, adding that the center needed a space that could serve 100 to 150 teens each day.
“We wanted to have a place for them, where they could come, feel safe, learn, (get) help with the school work, help preparing for college and things like that and that was kind of what got this whole thing started,” he said.
Now that the Boys & Girls Club has a separate facility large enough to serve all the teenagers coming to its doors, Clement said the Club is interested in expanding even beyond that, adding that the organization could potentially establish weekend hours or stay open longer on weeknights soon.
“I think we’ll keep growing and we’ll keep expanding the services that we can do,” he said.
Christian Johnson, a rising junior at Bowling Green High School, said he’s excited the teen center has been completed. Johnson, who has been a regular at the Boys & Girls Club for about five years, said there has long been a need for the teen center, largely due to a lack of space.
“In our community ... we weren’t able to get that many teens to come because every time a kid wanted to come, we’d either be full or we couldn’t have people come in,” he said.
For years, the teens at the Boys & Girls Club have also wanted their own area separate from younger kids, Johnson said.
“We would always have to share the computer lab, the game room, the basketball court with all the other kids. We still have to (with) the basketball court, but the computer lab we don’t have to do that no more because we’ve got new MacBooks,” he said.
Though it’s nice to have an area specifically dedicated to them, Johnson said the teens will still regularly see the younger children the Boys & Girls Club serves.
“It really is nice to be separated from them, but at the same time we do still get to see them,” he said.