The Martha’s Vineyard Boys and Girls Club signed a purchase and sale agreement last week for 21 acres of land for a future campus in Edgartown.
In a conversation with The Times Friday, club executive director Jessie Damroth and club president Mike Donaroma said the deal was struck with the family of Philip “Jeff” Norton Jr. The land is in a wooded area off Edgartown–West Tisbury Road, only a stone’s throw from the club’s current facility.
They have 14 months to come up with the funds, per the agreement, which gives them time to fundraise and plan for the future campus. Damroth declined to disclose the sale price, but said it is negotiable based on how many acres the club actually buys.
The club wants to work with the town, which abuts the property and has expressed interest in the land. Donaroma, who is also an Edgartown selectman, said he has and will continue to recuse himself from town conversations about the property because of his role with the club.
Damroth was born and raised on the Island, growing up in Chilmark. Donaroma, an Edgartown native, became a board member in 2017 before becoming president in January. After seeing other clubs and assessing their own, the two former childhood members of the club decided it was high time to build a facility with more room. They were blown away by recent visits to clubs on Nantucket and in Chelsea, Rockland, New Jersey, and New York, that offer programs in large facilities.
“What other clubs offer, it’s just amazing,” Donaroma said. “From soup to nuts. I mean they have counseling, they have educational stuff, they have music rooms, they can cut CDs, they have art rooms, they do exchange things.”
Donaroma said the club serves close to 1,000 Island children. There are $20 annual membership fees, but the club also offers scholarships and assistance if families can’t pay.
“As a whole it’s a campus that we’re looking at, a campus concept to truly serve the needs of all the kids that we are currently serving, and beyond,” Damroth said.
The new campus will consist of a facility to serve K-12 students, a playground, and some type of athletic field. The club also plans to collaborate with other nonprofits on the Island.
The sale agreement comes during a year of transition for the club. In February, six members on the Boys and Girls Club board of directors resigned, citing “major philosophical differences,” according to a letter from the former members.
“Although we have been working at understanding and embracing opposing views with
the hope that a stronger, more productive, unified board would emerge from our
differences, that does not appear to be the case. Decisions that we cannot support
continue to be made, and each of the resigning board members has determined that her
ability to effectively contribute to the board has been stymied,” the letter reads.
The letter from the former board members applauds the mission of the Island’s Boys and Girls Club, but says a wedge was driven between the new management and the long-term board members.
The current board of directors wrote a statement in response to the letter, thanking the former members for their service.
“Change is hard, but sometimes inevitable for an institution to move forward and succeed,” the statement says.
The current board consists of members Kimberly Kirk, an attorney who is also vice president of the club; John Chatinover, the MVRHS swim coach and a certified public accountant; and Dan Rossi, the former police chief in Chilmark.
Jim Clark, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, praised the Island club for its efforts in growing.
“Martha’s Vineyard Boys & Girls Club has been serving youth for more than 80 years, and is a critical part of the community. This project — which will reinforce the club’s position as the leading advocate for young people on the Island — represents the next phase in furthering the organization’s commitment to the area, with new spaces and resources that will provide even more impact-driven programs and high-yield experiences that empower, equip, and inspire youth to reach their full potential. At more than 4,600 locations around the country, Boys & Girls Clubs work to level the playing field for kids and teens, so that no matter the circumstances that surround them, they can have a safe place, with caring mentors that will do whatever it takes to ensure they have a great future. I applaud the work by Jessie Damroth, and the entire team at Martha’s Vineyard Boys & Girls Club, for being leading advocates for youth in the community and building a new chapter for young people on Martha’s Vineyard,” Clark said.
The current club will remain open throughout the purchase, and eventually construction, of the new club.
“I’m happy to keep it in Edgartown,” Donaroma said. “It’s not a big change. It’s already a nice campus, there’s a library there, there’s an elementary school there. There’s the town rec area there … It just makes sense.”
After months of planning, Damroth said, everyone within the club is excited about the club’s future.
“Time to catch up,” Donaroma said.
“This is truly a great opportunity for the Island,” Damroth added.