Photos by: Estebon "Steve" Granados

By Rebecca Forand | South Jersey Times
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on November 21, 2014 at 7:30 PM

 

A facility with pool tables, musical instruments, video games and gym equipment may look like just a fun place for kids to gather, but this space is also a safe place where teenagers can receive homework help and mentoring.

Years after it was first proposed, the Boys & Girls Club of Gloucester County's Paulsboro location opened its new Teen Center Thursday, fulfilling a promise the Club made to the borough's kids nearly a decade ago.

Formerly a dank, dark basement beneath the Boys & Girls Club's youth facility, the new Teen Center is now fully equipped with a Tech Center, an audio-visual room, games and homework space, but it wasn't an easy task to complete.

A lack of funding shelved the idea until the "blueprints turned yellow," said Gerald Hodges, the director of the Paulsboro location.

One man changed the tides on the project, however, when he pledges $300,000 to get it off the ground.

John Eppehimer is one of dozens of funders to the Teen Center, but he is the one who donated the most, and he was on hand Thursday — along with other donors, elected officials, Boys & Girls Club board members and dozens of teenagers who will be taking advantage of all of their work.

"This went six or seven years not being able to happen. It's amazing. It really is," Eppehimer said as he watched kids experience the place for the first time. "I hope it gives kids a place to feel good, to learn. They have a place to be without being harassed."

It's often been lamented throughout the borough that the town's teenagers have no place to go. While the Boys & Girls Club has had space for children up to the age of 13, its teen program was limited due to space. Now, with the newly renovated location, it is able to expand.

"We always have that saying in Paulsboro 'the kids have nowhere to go,'" Hodges said. "This is a dream come true ... I'm hoping this helps them to take some ownership. This is theirs, not ours."

For a $15 annual membership fee, kids between the ages of 13 and 18 will be able to go to the Teen Center between the hours of 3 and 8 p.m. on weekdays. From 3 to 4 p.m. there will be "power hour" — a time for concentrating on homework and learning — and the rest of the time will be for socializing or utilizing the amenities provided.

"If they come to the Boys & Girls Club, chances are they're done their homework. They're ready to go for the next day," said Robert Taylor, executive director of the Gloucester County Boys & Girls Club.

Assemblyman John Burzichelli touted the Center's focus on arts and technology for kids at the grand opening ceremony.

"Here's a spot for development of artistic talent. In Paulsboro we seem to always focus toward sports," he said. "Boys & Girls Club is a safe place.

In addition to Eppehimer, local companies such as PBF Refinery, Atlantic City Electric, Comcast and Savage Industries all donated to getting the Teen Center up and running.

According to Steven Krynski, a representative from PBF, the Boys & Girls Club — which is in sight of the refinery — is one of the best ways for the company to spend its money.

"What better investment do the people and investors of Paulsboro have than their community?" he asked. "This isn't a donation. This is an investment."

Rebecca Forand may be reached at rforand@southjerseymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @RebeccaForand. Find the South Jersey Times on Facebook.

Below is a list of some of the people who helped get this project off the ground.

John Eppehimer – Rising Tide Media
John Michael Paz
Dr. Jim George
Ray Angelini – RAI
Paulsboro Refining Company
Savage Services Corporation
DeSimone Construction
James Daloisio – Railroad Construction Company
Ronald L. McDaniel Foundation
Cornell and Company
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Philadelphia
Gloucester County Board of Chosen Freeholders
Comcast Foundation
Atlantic City Electric