NEWINGTON - A group of â€śBoys Clubâ€ť alumni toasted their childhood hangout over a football game this week.
It was renamed the New Britain Boys & Girls Club in 1992, and the boys who once played there evolved into volunteers and staff members. That includes former board President Stanley Szczepanik, who organized a fundraiser for the club at The Bar in Newington Sunday.
Szczepanik played guest bartender all afternoon and evening, donating his tips back to the club and topping that with a personal donation of his own. The Bar owner Nick Gallichio also contributed.
â€śIâ€™ve been involved with the club for 45 years,â€ť Szczepanik said. â€śIâ€™m just trying to help.â€ť
Along with current board President Rick Mullins, Executive Director Todd Czuprinski and many others, Sczepanik found a safe haven in the Boys Club as a kid.
â€śWe spent an awful lot of time there with our friends doing all the sports activities and games,â€ť said Mark Rocha, a friend, board member and alum who attended the fundraiser.
He recalled heading there right after school and then again in the evenings until 9 oâ€™clock.
â€śIt kept me involved in athletics and on the straight and narrow,â€ť Rocha said.
Supporters value lifelong friendships fostered through the Boys & Girls Club, whose history dates back more than 125 years.
â€śI can name 20 people Iâ€™m still friends with who I actually met at the Boys Club,â€ť said Dante Vasi, who brought his family in to The Bar Sunday. â€śItâ€™s just a great place, and they need more support.â€ť
The 50-year-old Vasi joined when he was in the third grade. It served as a gateway to playing in the New Britain Youth Baseball League and later, learning to play basketball.
When he was a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Vasi coached the first championship team in the clubâ€™s Biddy Basketball program. Now his son Joe, 6, is just beginning the ten-week instructional program.
Biddy Basketball is one of many opportunities the organization provides to local youth in the realm of recreation, education and socialization. The Washington Street facility is home to a gymnasium, a game room, athletic fields and a computer lab. Monday through Friday it serves as an after-school destination for roughly 200 New Britain students ages 6 to 18. This winter kids will take part in robotics, karate, basketball, computer science and more.
Teenagers benefit from their own focused programming. Architecture, Construction Management and Engineering (ACE) connects them to career training with volunteer mentors from the Tomasso Group, Manafort Brothers and other local companies. An in-house radio studio is a fun environment for honing communication skills.
The board kicked off its 2018-19 annual campaign on Thanksgiving. Officers hope to collect over $50,000 to supplement their annual budget of $674,000. Although the City of New Britain provides a yearly contribution, operations rely heavily on grants from various foundations, corporate sponsors and individual donors.
â€śOver the next year our goal is to increase the size of our budget incrementally,â€ť Czuprinski said. â€śOur main goal is to increase the number of children served on a daily basis and expand and enhance programs.â€ť
He hopes other businesses, groups and alumni will consider stepping up to help the club.
â€śItâ€™s great when members of the board get actively involved in the annual campaign to help us meet our goals,â€ť Mullins pointed out. â€śWeâ€™re serving the young people in our community who are in desperate need of a safe and healthy recreation and learning environment.â€ť
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.