ENGLEWOOD — It’s not unusual to see Corey Pooler practicing the saxophone in the kitchen at the Englewood Boys & Girls Club.
It’s also not uncommon to see kids playing ball in the open field near busy State Road 776 beside the club, which is tucked in a corner of a busy strip plaza in Englewood.
While Pooler doesn’t mind not having a designated area at the club to practice after school, Kristen Conti is not happy about it. Conti is the president of the Englewood Boys & Girls Club Board of Directors. For years, the club’s lack of space has been a problem.
“There’s a waiting list for kids to come to this club, but it’s entirely too small to accommodate the growing needs of the community,” Conti said. “We can’t serve Englewood Elementary students because there’s no room in this building to fit anymore children.”
Conti said the board’s mission is to find a new building for the club which is sandwiched in an old office unit at the McCall Plaza, across from Walmart. In addition to being too small, the location doesn’t have a suitable place for the kids to play outside.
“These kids don’t have a quiet place to do their homework at the club because everything is in one room,” she said.
During a recent visit to the club, Conti worked with a student at the computer while board member Darrell Caparo, a lieutenant with the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, played pool with three elementary school members.
Nearby, Brandon Dignam watched as 9-year-old Blayze Cox, a Myakka Elementary School student, Dino Dentino, 7, and Noah Smith, 7, both Vineland Elementary School students.
“Space is really crammed here,” said two-year board member Dignam. “We are hoping to find these kids a much better location in the near future.”
Search for a new home
The board was excited about the possibility of being given land that would work near Rotonda. However, it turned out the scrub jay mitigation for the property is estimated at $20,000.
“We just can’t do it,” Conti said. “We could spend that money on a building.”
In addition to fundraisers, Conti said she will be working with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation to potentially help with funding options.
One building in Englewood could work as a new home to the Englewood Boys & Girls Club.
“We contacted the facilities manager for the Sarasota County School Board to ask about the empty building (formerly Englewood Recreation Center Park, 101 N. Orange St.) near the Orange Street Park. It’s an ideal location. There’s a park on the campus. The building has multiple rooms so kids could do their homework in a quiet area. Corey and others could practice their instruments. There’s an area where they could eventually have their own concert and other entertainment in that building.”
Sarasota County Schools has facility sharing agreements in North Port and Venice for land and pool usage. Conti said she’ll be elated if a deal can be worked out for the Englewood club. The Englewood building was constructed years ago as a recreation center. During the 1990s, it served as an after-school center for the Police Athletic League.
“We could start serving students at Englewood Elementary School,” she said. “We could go on field trips to the nearby veterans memorial along Lemon Bay. We could go to Indian Mound Park. We could explore Dearborn Street. They have the Arts Alliance. We could invite artists over to work with the students.
“It opens the door to so many amazing opportunities for the Boys & Girls Club members.”
Jessica Anderson, who oversees the Englewood Club, said there’s only room for 65 students at the club right now. She said they could serve 125 if we had a different building.
“We have a waiting list because of space and the bus situation,” Anderson said. “We wanted to expand the program to Englewood Elementary School students but we don’t have room to park our bus. We have a van that was donated. But there are enough students who want to come to the club that would fill the bus.”
No matter where the students are, volunteer Janet P. Williams wants to work with them.
“My church St. Andrews on Boca Grande donates to the Boys & Girls Club,” said the retired therapist. “I like delivering the art supplies and snacks. They are great children. They just need more space to be kids.”
Conti said the board needs a “Plan B” in case the School Board-owned building agreement doesn’t happen.
“Right now, we are looking for anyone who can donate land or has an ideal location in Englewood to reach out to us,” Conti said.
“We just want to help the entire Englewood community. It’s growing. The club is a safe place for kids after school and in the summer. The kids are here, the need is here. We want to fill that need and enrich these members’ lives.”
For more information about the club, call 941-460-6589. To help with a donation, call 941-286-8486.