News and Updates

Passaic Boys & Girls Club gets new coat of paint, laptops

PASSAIC ― The Boys & Girls Club of Passaic was founded in 1906, and was one of the original 52 locations for what was then The Boys Club of America. Since then, while programming and curriculum have been updated and the Passaic chapter moved into its current building in the early 1970s, not a lot had changed for the nearly-50-year-old facility at 14 Hudson St.

That is, until Wednesday, when The Boys & Girls Club of Passaic unveiled the result of massive renovations, which the organization began last November thanks to $1.5 million in public and private funding.

While the clubhouse, as the organization calls its locations, needed more than a coat of paint, it certainly needed that as well.

The entire interior, including the gym, pool, dance studio and library received new floor tiling, lighting and color.

“I used to dread coming in here,” said Wendy Schwamb, chief marketing and development officer, about a stairwell newly refinished in a radiant orange hue. “Now it looks like a creamsicle.”

The club received $1.3 million to renovate the gym from Wells Fargo and New Jersey Community Capital using New Market Tax Credits, a national program that offers tax credits to private companies and individuals who invest in community development.

Using federal block grants, the City of Passaic footed the bill for a resurfaced parking lot, a new air conditioning system and locker rooms, which will be completed within the next six months.

A brand new HVAC system, lighting and flooring for the pool were made possible through a $30,000 donation from the Heisman Trophy Trust. The Tenyo Family Foundation provided $25,000 toward remodeling the club’s Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics lab, which now includes 20 new laptops, 15 tablets, modular furniture and television screens that will be used to simulcast experiments.

Noticeably absent from the lab are test tubes and beakers, the hallmarks of public school science classes. “We’re not doing microscope-type things,” said Schwamb. “It’s more hands on, that’s why we call it DIY.”

One recent exercise, led by Paterson native and former wide receiver for the Giants, Victor Cruz, had kids freezing footballs and heating them with hairdryers to see how the temperature of the ball affected its trajectory when thrown.

“What we’re doing is academic in nature, but we use fun to do it,” Schwamb said.

There’s also a tech lab and computer center that will boast 25 new laptops for the teen program, where members can study coding, take virtual campus tours, work on college essays and prepare for the SATs.

Ryan Ruiz, 18, started as a Boys & Girls Club member last year when he entered the club’s “Diplomas to Degrees” program, receiving help with his college applications.

“Back then it was just pen and paper,” Ruiz said of the prep courses. He now works a paid position at the Boys & Girls Club as a sports director, and believes the new renovations mean more than an added pool table or two.

“The children get excited. They can feel like this is their stuff, and that they need to take care of it. It will give them a sense of responsibility,” he said.

Bellanir Cariño, or "Miss B,” as she’s known to the children and staff, serves as the Assistant Program Director for the Passaic clubhouse. “The games room was the first thing we got back” after renovations were finished, she said. “We have a total of 150-180 kids in a day, but we only let 30 in the game room at a time.” She said the line of kids waiting to use the new facilities on that first day stretched all the way back to the gym.

Joe Buga joined the Boys & Girls Club when he was 7 years old. Now a member of Passaic’s urban enterprise zone development corporation, he recalled the difference the new features make. “We had a lot of the same stuff: a pool, gym and game room, but this brings it to a new level of sophistication.”

Though, Buga was more struck by the similarities so many decades later. “The most important thing is not the building,” he said, “it’s the core values of the Boys & Girls Club: Honesty, loyalty and good sportsmanship.”