MLB joins Denzel to open 5,000th Boys & Girls Club

April 14th, 2023

SOUTH ELGIN, Ill. -- The first Boys & Girls Club of America was created in Hartford, Conn., in 1860. On Wednesday -- 163 years later-- the organization opened its 5,000th club outside Chicago.

This new 20,000-square-foot clubhouse opened to continue the spread of what the Boys & Girls Club mission stands for -- helping the youth and young teenagers reach their full potential. They provide education, meals, and activities to kids from kindergarten to eighth grade.

On Wednesday, sponsors, donors and leaders came together to celebrate the opening of this new facility. The list of VIPs included an eye-popping name -- Oscar winning actor Denzel Washington, who was a member of the Boys & Girls Club when he was a kid, credits much of his success with his involvement with the organization and has been a supporter of the organization throughout his adult life.

"I believe in Boys & Girls Club because I'm living proof," Washington said. "One of the greatest things [my mother] ever did for me was introduce me to the club and sign me up. I was a shy kid who was scared to death. What I am now is proof of the power, strength, commitment, guidance, caring, love, patience, understanding that I learned and was given by those who encouraged me."

Washington is one of many students around the world that has felt the impact of the Boys & Girls Club. This organization allows kids to be heard and helps them achieve anything they want. Going into a new environment can always be scary. But the Boys & Girls Clubs put the kids' priorities first while helping them achieve real-life skills and career aspirations.

Major League Baseball chief baseball development officer Tony Reagins also has first-hand knowledge of what BGCA offers. He's an alum of the Boys & Girls Clubs and in 2022 was inducted into its hall of fame.

"The work that we do for young people is extremely important because it's going to live long after we're gone," Reagins said. "It's not something that either [me or Denzel] take lightly because we know the impact of somebody helping you."

"This is the dream of every Boys & Girls Club," said Cathy Russell, the CEO of the new facility. "But no club is an island, and we do not do our work alone. We're all a part of something bigger, an ocean of clubs around the world, supporting every young person on their journey to a brighter future. This mission is greater than any one of us, and this is a moment to celebrate."

When four women came together to create this organization in 1860, they did so hoping to develop young children's character. They wanted to give individuals a safe space to learn, be themselves and help discover their career interests.

Five thousands clubs later, that still lives true to the Boys & Girls Club of America.

"Four women realized a critical need in their community, a safe place for local boys to get off the streets and build their character," Sam Gray, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Hartford, said. "It gave them a place to go after school, have a meal and enjoy productive activities. While we've grown and evolved in an enormous way, the clubs have stayed true to that original mission."

The new clubhouse in South Elgin features a sensory room, an art room, a reading room and a game room to appeal to every type of kid. At the moment, 120 kids are enrolled in this location, and 130 more are expected to be enrolled by the fall.

With the addition of another Boys & Girls Club, the organization will continue changing the lives of young kids. They've gone above and beyond for 163 years to make the youth feel welcomed and set them up for the future.

"It's in safe, inclusive spaces where kids can be themselves, build essential skills and find positive mentors and champion their potential," president and CEO of Boys & Girls Club of America Jim Clark said. "Boys & Girls Clubs provide environments that allow kids to be themselves and their true, authentic self. 91% of youth say they feel safe being themselves at a Boys & Girls Club."

More than seven million kids and teens are left unsupervised after school and the Boys & Girls Club gives them a chance to attend after-school programs. With the 5,000th club opening in South Elgin, more kids can have the opportunity to partake in a life-changing experience.

"I know what I want on my tombstone, and I know it has something to do with the lessons I learned in the Boys & Girls Club," Washington said. "I've learned to learn, I've learned to grow, I've learned to contribute, [and] I've learned to give back."