In the art room of the Boys & Girls Club of Edgartown, staffer Mary Seveland guided kids in the afterschool program through the steps of making the painted paper people that will adorn the windows of Edgartown businesses throughout the winter. Across the broad worktables lay completed projects; a girl wearing purple and pink polka dots, a boy in red Santa attire.
“You can make yours anything,” Ms. Seveland said to one youngster.
“I’m going to make mine a pop star,” the girl replied.
Anything goes at the Boys & Girls Club, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. Since its inception as the Edgartown Boys Club in 1937, the organization has changed locations from School street to the current building on Robinson Road, but its overall mission has remained much the same.
“It’s a fun place,” executive director Peter Lambos said in an interview on Monday. “This whole facility is definitely just for kids.”
Mr. Lambos grew up coming to the Boys & Girls Club. As a student in the Edgartown School, he “wandered over” one day and soon became a regular. When he was old enough, he became a summer camp counselor.
The best part of the Club, he said, was “just having friends around all the time . . . you were never here like, ‘I’m bored, I can’t find somebody to play with.’”
Today, a plethora of youth programs on the Island allow kids to make friends from different towns, but when Mr. Lambos was in school, the Boys & Girls’Club was one of the few places where Vineyard Haven mixed with Edgartown and Oak Bluffs mixed with West Tisbury.
The Boys & Girls Club opened to kids outside of Edgartown in 1986, after Jules Ben David donated a bus that could transport students from the other elementary schools. The busing program continues today, although the majority of kids at the club are still from Edgartown — ”just proximity,” Mr. Lambos said.
On any given afternoon, about 100 school-age students drop by the club for its afterschool program, which Mr. Lambos describes as the core of the organization. Summer brings a nine-week day camp program. The counselors are, as Mr. Lambos was, largely former members of the Boys & Girls Club. In the fall, the club hosts flag football and cheerleading programs. In the winter, recreational basketball teams play in the gym, the only non-school gymnasium on the Island. Adult basketball leagues, karate and high school preseason lacrosse and baseball teams, to name just a few, also take advantage of the facility.
But providing a space where “kids can be kids” remains the main focus of the Boys & Girls Club, Mr. Lambos said.
For kids who may be in difficult home situations, the club is a space to “get away, to kind of break the cycle,” he said, noting that it’s not necessarily kids from low-income families who can benefit, since boredom and neglect can affect children of all backgrounds and all ages.
Still, keeping programs affordable remains paramount. In 1984, yearly membership dues were just $3. Today, they are $20 per year, an amount that has not changed in more than a decade.
The cost per day to attend is a mere 11.1 cents per child. Membership dues per child cover only three per cent of operating costs, which are $550,000 per year. It costs $12,000 each year just to bus kids in from Oak Bluffs, Tisbury and West Tisbury. The Club relies largely on grants, donations and fundraisers to make up the difference. Wingfest, the all-you-can eat chicken wing bonanza, takes place on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. at Sharky’s in Edgartown, with proceeds going to the Boys & Girls Club.
The community support works both ways. Fifth and sixth-graders at the club can join the Torch Club, a peer leadership group that helps with service programs and initiatives. On Monday, they discussed starting a project with PAWS, a spay-and-neuter group on the Island. At the club, the older students are a steady presence among the often rambunctious younger kids.
On Tuesday, the smell of popcorn permeated the main game room at the club, which is instantly recognizable by its vibrant blue-and-gold painted walls. In one corner, partially hidden by the many coats and jackets hanging from the adjacent wall, two boys worked on homework while shouts rang out from the games of bumper pool and foosball going on nearby. In the technology room, the Homework Club was busy finishing assignments; there was a mini-rush to sign up for computer time in the room after the Homeworkers were done. The gym was equally busy, with second and third-graders making free throws, dribbling soccer balls or simply working on their dance moves.
“It’s a crazy place; the adults try to make sense of it,” Mr. Lambos said. “When it’s loud, everything’s okay.”
Wingfest 4: Eating the Heat for Kids
In 1992 Toni Morgan raised $9,000 for the Boys & Girls Club in what a Gazette feature described as “a novel bet.” Mr. Morgan went on a diet to lose 30 pounds, asking friends to donate to the club for each pound he lost. “His loss is their gain,” the article concluded.
But with Wingfest scheduled for this Saturday, “gain” seems much more the word of the day. Each year, local groups concoct secret sauces and bring three gallons’ worth to the contest, where attendees can sample the wares and decide on the best wing sauce. The contest is hosted by Sharky’s Cantina, which also provides the wings; owner JB Blau estimated that the restaurant goes through anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 wings during the competition. Last year, boneless wings were added to Wingfest, although, as Mr. Blau notes, “Die-hard wing people scoff at you when you mention boneless.”
Awards are given for Best Wings (as determined by attendees), Committee’s Choice (as determined by organizers), Spiciest Wings and Best Booth; there’s also a wing-eating contest for any aspiring Joey Chestnuts out there. The Edgartown Fireman’s Association won Best Wings three years in a row, and has been temporarily retired this year to the “Coop of Fame,” making the contest anyone’s game. Nonprofits and municipal organizations are encouraged to participate.
Mr. Blau said he was inspired to start Wingfest five years ago, after the restaurant first added wings to its menu.
“Our business model is based on focusing as much as we can on the winter — the off-season, but we call it the on-season — and just trying to bring things to the Island that are entertaining,” he said.
The event is now in its fourth year, with organizers hoping to raise $12,500 for the Boys & Girls Club. Tickets are $25 and all of the proceeds go to the club. Last year, Wingfest raised well over $8,000, drawing about 400 people.
The decision to support the Boys & Girls Club with Wingfest proceeds was “a no-brainer,” Mr. Blau said. After his daughter, Piper (now 5), was born, Mr. Blau said he became much more interested in focusing Sharky’s community outreach on youth organizations.
“It kind of changes your focus,” Mr. Blau said. “Once you have a kid, basically all you think about is your kids and their friends . . . it was pretty obvious once she was born that a lot of the focus that [Sharky’s] did community-wise would be around kids.”
Wingfest takes place from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon at Sharky’s Cantina in Edgartown. Tickets are $25, and can be purchased online at wingfestmv.com.