The Boys & Girls Club Family Center, Inc. evolved from a vision that was developed in 1899 by Miss Eleanor Townsley who, out of concern for the upbringing of young girls in Springfield, rented a house on Ferry Street in the North End section of Springfield to give these young girls a place to take Saturday night baths and for quiet reading. From this simple beginning, the program blossomed and began to provide life-enhancing opportunities through a variety of activities including instruction in art, crafts, and needlework.
Almost two decades later, in 1918, the program became so successful that its Board of Directors decided to charter it as the Springfield Girls Club and Miss Nellie Sunderman, of New York, was hired to be its first manager. Under her expert professional direction, the club developed in scope and influence outgrowing at least four houses. Under her expert professional direction, the club developed in scope and influence, outgrowing at least four houses. It was during 1928, under Miss Sunderman’s direction, that Camp Mishnoah for girls was founded in Holland, Mass., on the shore of Lake Siog. Today, after 79 years of providing wholesome camping experience for Springfield’s girls, Camp Mishnoah is currently conducting a systematic plan to implement major repairs, renovations, and expansion of its cabins and grounds. The plan will help the Boys & Girls Club Family Center continue with its tradition of providing services to children who need us most in an improved camping facility.
Nearly 40 years after the Ferry Street Settlement House was created, the Girls Club in 1940, under Maxine Keith’s leadership, obtained the first building in the country to be designed specifically for a Girls Club program at 343 Chestnut St., Springfield. In 1954 Miss Keith resigned to become the Executive Director of the Girl’s Club of America, the national organization formed in Springfield in 1946, in which the Springfield Club was a charter member. At that time, Mrs. Bernice Leslie was appointed to succeed Miss Keith as executive director, a position she held until 1973. The building on Chestnut Street remained open until June 1966 when the North End Renewal Program caused it to close its doors and the program was relocated at 100 Acorn St.
The fourth Executive Director, Mr. Henry A. Dawson, Jr., was appointed in March 1973 and retired in January 1996. During Mr. Dawson’s direction, the Springfield Girl’s Club Family Center, Inc. was licensed by the Office for Children of Massachusetts for a School Age Child Care Program in 1985 and a Preschool Child Care Program in 1988. He also opened a special needs integrated School Age Program at Dryden Memorial Elementary School in 1991.
The fifth Executive Director, Ms. Carol A Rawson, was appointed in February 1996. During her appointment, the Family Center established three additional Boys & Girls Club units – two in Springfield Public Housing Projects and one in private housing.
The sixth Executive Director, Dr. Jean-Claude Gerlus, was appointed in March 2005. Under his leadership, two additional Boys & Girls Club units that were previously closed were re-opened in Springfield Housing Projects. The Club completed in December 2005 its first four-year Strategic Plan to assist the board and management in not only reaffirming the club’s mission, but also developing a vision for the future with excellence and leadership as the guiding principles of our organization.
In July 2011, the Springfield Girls Club Family Center officially changed its name to the Boys & Girls Club Family Center, formally recognizing its membership and participation in the national Boys & Girls Club movement. Sarah Tsitso was then hired as the club’s seventh executive director in September 2011. Her plans for the club include creation and implementation of a new strategic plan, increased enrollment and community engagement, facility improvements, board development, and new programs that benefit all children who call this club their second home.
Over the past 120 years, the Boys & Girls Club Family Center has grown to become a multi-site child service agency providing early childhood education, after school care, summer day camp and residential camp programs for thousands of children in Springfield.