Written By Lisa Breslin

Barbara and Becca love to come to the Union Street Community Center in Westminster to read or create crafts. When Ray comes through the doors, he morphs into a rock star who entertains everyone who will listen to his lyrics. Koran often bolts upstairs for games: ping pong, basketball, even pool.

Ever since the Union Street Community Center opened in October 2006, it has been the place many children call home from 3:30 until 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Most of the children are part of the newly named Westminster Boys and Girls Club of The Greater Baltimore Area.

Although the club has a new name, similar services were offered to many of the same children across the street from the center at the Union Street United Methodist Church under the auspices of a nonprofit organization called Shalom, which is Hebrew for peace.

The organization was created when the national church, responding to the Los Angeles riots of the early 1990s, encouraged the creation of “Shalom Zones” where community activism could be focused to address local problems, particularly those plaguing poor neighborhoods.

Over the last few years the church’s reverend, Dr. Howard Hinson, joined efforts with Shalom’s board of directors to pull together the state, city and church funding to build a community center and bolster the youth program.

The seeds for the Boys and Girls Club were sown.

Most of the activity in the community center is linked to the club. Children 6 to 16 years old are welcomed there, and as many as 21 children take advantage of the opportunity. For the first hour the children do homework and play educational games, and then enjoy indoor or outdoor recreation.

Still in its fledgling years, the club is navigating the problems familiar to nonprofit agencies, namely finding steady volunteers and funding.

“We have two little boys who press their noses against the back door and really want to come in, but we have to send them home,” said Beth Tevis, who serves on the board of directors for the club and volunteers at the center. “Unless there are enough volunteers to mentor the children, they are inevitably turned away.”

“Anyone who loves to play board games or has an interest in art, science, cultural activities or even gardening would make a great volunteer,” Tevis added. “Two hours out of the week would change many children’s lives.”

Phyllis Hammond Black is the club’s only paid employee. As unit director, she spends time writing requests for grants, transporting children to and from the community center and working with Tevis and other volunteers.
“The ideal for the Boys and Girls Club would be when I can open the doors and keep them open longer,” Hammond said. “And that includes offering a full range of programs that improve the children’s lives in four areas: education, health and fitness, arts, and healthy lifestyle.”

Hammond echoed Tevis’ call for additional volunteers and funding.

The club’s operational budget is approximately $70,000, according to Tom Welliver, who serves on Shalom’s board of directors. The building costs, including electricity, which run approximately $12,000 to $15,000, are covered by Shalom.

“Shalom has helped with the birth of the Boys and Girls Club, and now we are turning it over to a board of directors to run and eventually fund,” said Welliver. Shalom will continue to be the landlord for the Union Street Community Center.

As the Boys and Girls Club of the Greater Metropolitan Area continues to grow, Shalom will be looking at other programs to keep the doors to the Union Street Community Center open longer for more people.

“We hope to team up with existing programs in the area and bring early education programs, tutoring, child-parenting classes — whatever the community needs — to the community center,” Welliver said.

For more information about the Union Street Community Center or the Boys and Girls Club of the Greater Baltimore Metropolitan Area, email btevis00@comcast.net or phyllis8@hotmail.com.