Martha’s Vineyard Boys & Girls club keeps kids hopping

Anton Moreis winds up to boot a kick ball in the gym. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Pete Lambos was at his desk at 8:15 Saturday morning, dealing with paperwork. During his three years as executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Boys & Girls Club, Mr. Lambos, 31, has been busy — adding programs, raising money, painting walls and, always, preparing for next week.

As he showed a visitor around the facility next to The Edgartown School off West Tisbury Road, Mr. Lambos took a minute to provide information to a mom who dropped in with two kids looking for a karate class and made plans with a co-worker who came by to discuss the lifeguard swimming test both men must pass on Sunday as part of the club’s summer camp program.

Not the least of his busyness is keeping up with increased demand for club services in a difficult economic period. ” When I started three years ago, we had 40 or 45 kids regularly attending the afterschool program. Now we have 100 kids,” he said.

Mr. Lambos estimated that by the end of the year, the club will have 350 to 400 elementary school kids enrolled as members. “We get about half the Island kids in that population group coming here,” he said.

Annual fees per child are $20. “Sometimes parents pay the $20 and ask when their next payment is due. But that’s it. Twenty bucks a year.”

Even that nominal amount can be difficult for some families. “We have people paying a dollar a week,” Mr. Lambos said. “That’s fine. When people lose their jobs and are working three part-time jobs to make ends meet, coming up with 20 bucks can be a stretch.”

These are some of the most pressing times the nonprofit club has faced since its founding in 1934 as the Edgartown Boys & Girls Club. In 1977, a group of residents got together to build the current clubhouse. The club has a gym, an arts and crafts room, a game room, an all-purpose room where Mr. Lambos and his staff cajole students every day into completing homework before shooting hoops and games, drawing, or working with computers.

“They are free to do whatever they want, but we encourage homework first,” Mr. Lambos said. “That way, they get homework done, play for a few hours so when they go home, they can just have dinner and family time.”

The club is open from 2:40 until 6 pm on school days, from noon until 6 on school half-days, and all day (9 am to 6 pm) during vacation weeks. In addition, the club runs seasonal dances with pizza at $5 per event for junior high kids. There is also a K-8 summer camp program which draws 100 kids a week for tuition ranging between $120 and $165, depending on number of kids in a family and need.

“We keep a six to one ratio of counselors to kids although state law allows a 25-to-1 ratio,” Mr. Lambos said.

The club also runs a flag football and cheerleading schedule in the fall and a three-tiered winter basketball league for first through sixth graders in addition to the summer camp program. The gym is also rented for events and for rec league basketball at night.

“I was a member as a kid,” Mr. Lambos said. “My picture was on the old donation can in the stores, in fact. This is a great place.”

After graduating from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and from Slippery Rock University outside Pittsburgh in 2002, Mr. Lambos returned to the Island and quickly got involved with the club again. He sees the needs the club is meeting in a down economy and the Island’s particular culture.

“A lot of kids have family issues or are caught up in the ‘Island shuffle,’ having to move from rental home to rental home and attending different schools from year to year,” he said. “This is a good stabilizer for them. They find their niche here. They can try out different things until they find their thing.”

With increasing demand for youth services and increasing costs, Mr. Lambos is pulled in many different directions. With seven staffers directing most of the activities, Mr. Lambos is able to focus much of his attention on the club’s 10 fundraising events each year that raise nearly $500,000 in operating fiscal needs.

“We don’t have an activities director or a development director,” he said.” Our board does a great job, but times are tough. Even grants are more difficult to get. Many (grantors) have changed their focus from providing operating funds to funds for specific programs. For example, we had a grant for the $17,000 we spend busing kids to the after-school program. They don’t want to do that anymore. They want an innovative program, which is great, but what good is a great program if the kids can’t get to it?”

Mr. Lambos knows he could raise fees, but he fears making the club off-limits to any kids. “Boys and girls clubs off-Island are losing kids,” he said. “Parents can’t afford the $20 or $50 fee, whatever they charge.”

He is grateful for help offered to the club he says, “Comcast is giving us eight, maybe even 10, new computers,” he said, waving his arm around the tech room where four computers are gracefully aging. “That will really help.”

Outside the building, Mr. Lambos drew attention to the roof. “An anonymous donor is providing solar panels to help with heat and electricity,” he said. “Hey, if we can save a thousand on the heating bill, it helps. Every bit helps.”

If you have a donation to make, an idea to share, or some time to volunteer, contact Pete Lambos at 508-627-3303. Or write the B & G Club at P.O. Box 654 Edgartown, 02539.