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The Pieper-Hillside Boys & Girls Club, which had been open for over 20 years, closed in August. (File photo by Adam Carr)

Editor’s note: The story has been updated to list all the The Boys & Girls Clubs that have been closed.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee has closed six locations throughout the city, bowing to financial challenges created by the pandemic.

Kathy Thornton-Bias, president of the organization, which provides child care, mentoring and support for area children, said COVID-19 has put a dent in finances.

The Boys & Girl Clubs bills itself as the largest youth-serving agency in the city.

“I have empathy and understanding for those who think their place, their home, their livelihood are being threatened,” Thornton-Bias said.

But the money just isn’t there, she said.

Imposing social distancing has made operations difficult to maintain and kept many regulars from returning, she said.

Here are the clubs that have been closed until in-person classes resume:

Bradley Tech High School BGC

Dr. Howard Fuller Collegiate Academy BGC

Gaenslen BGC

Kagel BGC

Camp Whitcomb/Mason

In addition, the Pieper-Hillside Boys & Girls Club, which had been open for over 20 years and was a frequent stop for kids in Hillside Terrace and students at Golda Meir School, closed on Aug. 28.

For many, a news release from Ald. Milele Coggs was the first they had heard of the closing, causing a last-minute scramble to find child care.

Thornton-Bias said Pieper-Hillside relied heavily on students from Golda Meir School for traffic. With Golda Meir not meeting in person, the numbers suffered.

So far, the clubs have been  able to avoid staff layoffs. Thornton-Bias said keeping her employees remains a priority, especially because many kids stay because of the relationship, not the location.

Staff from Pieper-Hillside have been relocated to other clubs, she said.

“We’re adapting to live another day,” Thornton-Bias said. “We’re stretching our muscles in ways we’ve never done before.”

Child care disrupted

LaKeidra Madison works in the same building as the Pieper-Hillside club as an administrative assistant at the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee. Her daughter used to go to the club regularly. She said the closing uprooted child care for many in the area, herself included.

“They didn’t ask for input or get any opinions,” Madison said.

Madison said residents found out about the closing on a Wednesday, and two days later,  the club had shut its doors.

Madison said that in the interim before finding child care, she’s relied on family to watch her daughter. Other pricing options for her daughter’s child care are a far cry from the $5 one-time fee she paid at the club.

The center offered kids “mental engagement,” Madison said. It had a gymnasium for physical activity and classrooms where kids could do schoolwork, coloring and other activities.

Madison said the location also was convenient (parents at Hillside were able to stand on their porches and watch their kids walk into the club’s front doors) and that the center helped a lot of families.

The club also offered a computer lab and internet access for those who attended.

Madison said since the location closed, around 10 kids will be sitting on the benches outside of the club inside their building trying to get access to the internet so they can attend virtual schooling.

“This is a time when you should add resources in inner cities rather than taking them away,” Madison said.

In the meantime, the clubs are offering to place kids in other locations around the city, including the Siefert Boys & Girls Club, located in Siefert Elementary School, which is roughly six blocks away from Pieper-Hillside.

Thornton-Bias said the club offers free van transportation for kids.

Thornton-Bias said she does not know if or when the Pieper-Hillside club would reopen, as this year has proven unpredictable. But she said officials are working as hard as they can to serve the community.

“We know if we go away, our kids and communities will be harmed,” Thornton-Bias said.

Matt Martinez

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