BELLE GLADE — “What we do is save lives every day,” Mark Casale, vice president of philanthropy for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County (BGC), told Belle Glade city commissioners bluntly last month, offering his own life as an example.
Mr. Casale gave a presentation at their meeting May 21 as part of his push to get more donors on board supporting the $10 million Smith & Moore Family Teen Center that’s being built in the city. Ground was broken April 18 for the new building, which will be constructed next to a gymnasium at 350 S.W. 10th St. that Palm Beach County had donated, along with the land it sits on, to the BGC. The gym is currently being used as the BGC teen center.
“I want to first thank Mayor (Steve) Wilson, the city manager, the deputy city manager and commissioners for the partnership that you have with the Boys and Girls Club here in Belle Glade,” he said. “We have a wonderful 13,000-square-foot facility going up here in Belle Glade … We also have six school sites that many of you probably are not aware of, that is a feeder system to our Belle Glade teen center. We see about 1,700 kids every single day, ages 6 on up to 18 years of age, and we basically save lives. And for a moment, I just want to make it personal. I’m one of those individuals!” Mr. Casale said.
He explained that while growing up years ago in Union, N.J., he was a club member who got in trouble. “I hung out there with the wrong crowd at the time,” and was suspended along with two other boys, he said. “There was a list of things that we had to do to be able to get back in … well, the other two gentlemen were never allowed back in, and I was. And fast-forward, five years later: Unfortunately, had I hung with those two individuals … well, they both overdosed on drugs within a six-month period and I went on to … graduate college. So the Boys and Girls Club literally saved my life at that time.
“And that brings me to why we’re here today, to talk about our teen center.” Mr. Casale explained how the lead $1 million gift from former Palm Beach Mayor Lesly Smith and her daughter, Danielle Moore, two years ago started the campaign. From a year ago, when they had around $2 million total, to now, their fundraising has netted $6.2 million, including another million that Ms. Smith and Ms. Moore gave. There’s also a challenge grant pending, for which the clubs need to raise another $1 million to receive the same amount as a match.
“So they have invested $2 million into the Belle Glade community. We all should be very proud of that and honor them,” he added. “It’s all through the hard work of Jaene (Miranda, the CEO of BGC) and our staff that this has been able to happen.”
He asked the commissioners and audience for their continued help. “So I am here a little bit with my salesman’s hat on … so if anybody has any ideas, any relationships that we might be able to benefit from, we’re all in this together.”
The new building, which will be connected to the gym by a covered walkway and ramp, will also have security. “We really want our parents and participating students to feel like they’re walking into a state-of-the-art center, a controlled, safe environment with locked doors. Cars are going to be checked; only members are going to be allowed in,” he said.
Mr. Casale went on to show a short video they produced, all the while describing the facilities it will include. The downstairs will have a kitchen that will be used as a culinary training center; it will also feature separate rooms for a social hall, STEM, academics and technology centers and a game room; upstairs will be rooms dedicated as music and video, visual arts, performing arts and career readiness centers, along with an atrium looking down into the game room.
“We’ll have a career opportunities program where, we’re talking about children who might not be able to go to college for a four-year degree, but they can go to a technical school, learn a trade, be it culinary, construction, painting (or something else), but also have academic programs that are geared toward kids who want to go to college and get a four-year degree,” he added.
Winding down his presentation, Mr. Casale concluded: “If you walk away with one thing from tonight, just know that we’re helping 1,700-plus kids every single day, and then when we open this teen center — last year we had 354 teens (served there) — when we open the new teen center, we’ll be able to be close to 1,000 teens. So again, I applaud all your efforts, I applaud your commitment and support, and I look forward to working with you.”
Mayor Wilson summed up: “I’ll tell you what, commissioners: That Boys and Girls Club is going to be a nice project! Can you imagine, years from now, what this facility will do for our kids?”