New London - At one time, the Boys & Girls Club of Southeastern Connecticut provided education and recreational programs to nearly 350 children in Groton and New London.
But because of changes in leadership and financial problems, those numbers dwindled over the years to about 70.
Now, the new executive director hopes to restart the local club and attract more children to its sites at Thames River Apartments in New London and Claude Chester Elementary School in Groton.
"We have some great people working for us, but there hasn't been any established leader,'' said Cindy Morrison, who was appointed executive director last week. The position had been vacant since last July, she said.
"We did have some financial issues last year and the year before,'' she said. "But now we have some new money and new staff. ... We're rebuilding the community's faith in us."
Morrison was a recreation supervisor for 10 year at the Town of Groton's Recreation Department before taking six years off to tend to her family. She was hired as a part-time assistant director last October. Her time is spent working on grant applications, club programs and fundraising.
Last week, the organization was one of 19 groups in the state to receive a grant from state surplus funds. The $75,000 grant from the Probate Court Administration Fund will be used for programs at Thames River and to provide air conditioning for the first-floor facility. The club also recently received a $25,000 anonymous donation.
"With my new position and new funding coming in, we hope to stabilize what we have and expand on it,'' Morrison said. "I feel like a lot of people don't know who we are. One of my objectives is (to) let people know we even exist and to get our name out there."
What began in Hartford in 1860 as a boys-only organization, to get "boys who roamed the streets" into a more positive environment, has turned into a national movement with 4,000 clubs and about 4.2 million members. The bylaws were amended in 1990 to allow girls.
According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, in 2008, Boys & Girls clubs received more than $650 million in gifts.
Locally, the group has a staff of two full-time and five part-time people and an operating budget of about $250,000, Morrison said. Funding comes from the national association, grants and private donations.
The after-school program at Claude Chester in Groton is only for elementary-age students who attend the school, Morrison said. She'd like to find other locations and expand programs to include more children from other part of town.
In New London, at the high-rise apartments on Crystal Avenue, the club offers after-school programs for younger children as well as a teen center three nights a week for older members. Outings include trips to the movies, the Garde Arts Center and Mystic Aquarium.
The club has the entire first floor of the C Building, which includes a computer room, play room, general activity room and on-site supervisor's office.
"We love having them there,'' said Sue Shontell, executive director of the New London Housing Authority, which runs Thames River.
The community also volunteers to make the club successful, Morrison said. In the past, students from Pine Point School, Mitchell and Connecticut colleges and the Navy have helped out. A program where high school students serve as mentors to younger children is also popular, she said.
This summer, members will spend a day in July aboard the schooner Argia, and there will be a summer camp Aug. 13 to 24. The cost is $25 per child. The camp will run 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.