110 Years and Still Counting
July 22, 2012 11:59 PM
by James G. Keane, President and CEO
This year, Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago marks our 110th anniversary. We are proud to be the longest running organization exclusively and directly serving Chicago’s young people. Though the types of programs and activities we offer have evolved to suit our changing community, the heart of our mission has remained a cornerstone for more than a century:
"To enable all young people,
especially those who need us most,
to reach their full potential
as productive, responsible and caring citizens."
The first Chicago Boys Club was founded in 1902 by John F. Atkinson at 262 S. State Street to serve homeless newsboys or boys living in abject poverty. In addition to giving the boys a safe and clean place to live, sleep and eat, the Club provided the boys with character-building activities including trades such as carpentry, printing and cobbling as well as games, sports and tutoring. More than 1,700 boys flocked to the Boys Club. John Atkinson was quoted, "It is not only the labor problem, but also the leisure problem to which we must find a solution. We must either build Boys Club rooms in which to instruct them or we must build jails in which to incarcerate them. Which will it be?"
Ahead of its time, the Chicago Boys Club then opened a Chicago Girls Club at 404 S. South Street in 1904. In 1912, members could join for 25 cents per year or 5 cents per month and it cost $12 to serve each member per year. The need to serve young people-in-need even back then was great so Atkinson and his fellow founders founded new Clubs across the city, including the current Little Village Club at 2801 N. Ridgeway in 1919, the current Louis L. Valentine Club at 3400 Emerald Street in 1932, and the current Robert R. McCormick Club, which was located at 4715 N. Broadway in 1946
Though many of our historic Club locations still exist and are teeming with children and teens, Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago has evolved to fit the needs of Chicago’s changing communities. This includes partnering with schools, churches and community groups to share space and bring our life-changing programs to where young people are most vulnerable during the out-of-school hours:
The focus of our program has gone from the basic sheltering and feeding young people to offering programs and activities that develop their character, cultivate self-confidence and expand their opportunities, including but not limited to:
- Updated technology labs where young people can learn basic software, write and create a movie or make digital music
- Nutritious gardens where young people are growing healthy fruits and vegetables and then learning to cook healthy meals
- Peer groups such as SMART Girls or Passport to Manhood where young people discuss how to overcome the challenges and pressures that they face in healthy and responsible manners
- College prep classes and tours to help them navigate the opportunities for higher education
- Updated fitness centers where young people can work off some stress while staying fit
- Vibrant arts programs including fine arts, theatrical arts, music and dance where they can express themselves creatively
We are proud of the positive difference Boys & Girls Clubs have made in the lives of hundreds of thousands of youth throughout the years, yet there is still more work to be done. John Atkinson relied upon the compassion, leadership and support of others to make a difference in the lives of Chicago’s young people. Thanks to your continued interest and support, we look forward to another century of giving young people great futures.