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Boys & Girls Clubs Celebrate Beginnings In Hartford 150 Years Ago

The Hartford Courant

March 13, 2010

Young boys, the sons of immigrants, were running the streets with nothing to do. A group of civic-minded women decided to keep them busy. They founded an after-school program, the first with "structured, daily, out-of-school activities for disadvantaged boys," according to a history of the project.

This took place in 1860 and represents a grand if little-known achievement in Hartford history the Boys & Girls Clubs was founded here. The 1860 program, originally called the Dashaway Club, evolved into an organization that now has more than 4.5 million members around the world. It counts Bill Clinton, Michael Jordan, Denzel Washington and Jennifer Lopez among alumni.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford is celebrating its 150th anniversary with activities all year, particularly with a gala on March 25. It's a chance to celebrate an organization with a marvelous history and a vital presence today.

In 1860, Louisa Bushnell, Mary and Alice Goodwin, and Elizabeth Hamersley founded the club in their homes. After the Civil War, the club reorganized as the Goodwill Boys Club. Some of the city's leading lights, including publishers of The Courant and the Hartford Times, led a campaign to build a new clubhouse on Pratt Street.

The first club was the model for programs in other cities. In 1906, these clubs formed the national Federated Boys Club, headed by legendary urban reformer Jacob Riis. Hartford's Boys Club, as it was called until 1992, survived through the 20th century, but really took off in the late 1990s, first with a new clubhouse on the Trinity College campus in 1998 and then with the state-of-the-art 30,000-square-foot Asylum Hill facility in 2004.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford now serves 1,000 youngsters ages 6 to 18 at a half-dozen sites daily. Some think of it as a "swim and gym" program; it is much more than that. Youngsters take part in structured programs that emphasize homework and academics, character development and community service, as well as athletics. In short, says President Samuel S. Gray Jr., the club is doing much of what it did 150 years ago which may explain its success.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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