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Participants in the Duquesne-West Mifflin Boys & Girls Club stand outside the now-closed Third Street location. Programming is moving to the nearby Duquesne Education Center. (Submitted photo via change.org)
Some residents are upset over a new partnership between the Duquesne City School District and the Duquesne-West Mifflin Boys & Girls Club that would see programs moving to the Duquesne Education Center.
An online petition to save the club has attracted more than 5,000 signatures.
The petition claims the move will negatively impact out-of-school programming for Duquesne children. It also alleges the change will increase costs for families and reduce the number of children participating in activities provided by the Duquesne-West Mifflin Boys & Girls Club.
“If the 3rd Street DWM Boys & Girls Club closes, there will not be free in-person programming this summer,” according to the petition. “The partnership with the Duquesne City School will only be offering summer online programming for Duquesne students who are in kindergarten through second grade.”
Tiffanee Heywood, assistant director of Goodwill’s YouthWorks program, created the change.org petition.
She said the Duquesne-West Mifflin Boys & Girls Club wasn’t just for youth programs and functioned as “the only community center in Duquesne,” hosting charity events and other benefits.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania announced in June that the Duquesne-West Mifflin club on North Third Street would close and programs would shift to the Duquesne Elementary Center.
BGCWPA said the move would allow the Duquesne-West Mifflin club to offer enhanced programs in robotics, art, health and fitness, as well as additional before- and after-school activities.
Lisa Abel-Palmieri, chief executive officer of BGCWPA, said in an interview that the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania recently completed more than a year of strategic planning.
The process included getting community input as well as input from major funding organizations and other partners, including the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Allegheny County Department of Health Services, she said.
In Duquesne, Abel-Palmieri said, the organization’s new strategy includes partnering with the Duquesne City School District and becoming a licensed child-care provider with the county’s Department of Human Services.
Most Boys & Girls Clubs around the country already were licensed child-care providers, but the Duquesne-West Mifflin club was not, she said.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic and other financial pressures, Abel-Palmieri said, BGCWPA has a responsibility to make sure all of its programs are financially sustainable.
Programs can no longer run multi-year deficits, as some did in the past, she said.
The pandemic also has limited in-person activities and caused some activities to shift to online, virtual programming.
“The way to keep these programs sustainable and to stay in the communities who need us the most is to figure out a new business plan,” Abel-Palmieri said.
The new partnership with the Duquesne school district will enable the Duquesne-West Mifflin club to receive federal child care worker funding, which will increase the amount of financial assistance available to families in need, Abel-Palmieri said.
But on social media, some parents and former staff members are arguing that changes will increase costs for families to use the Boys & Girls Clubs in McKeesport and Duquesne, and reduce services.
Jim Barry Jr., who served as director of strategic initiatives and outreach for the LaRosa Boys & Girls Club in McKeesport, said membership fees at the LaRosa club have doubled from $20 per month to $40, and summer camp fees have increased from $60 per week to $125 per week.
Barry said he was let go recently, along with Pat Bluett, long-time program manager at the Duquesne-West Mifflin club, and other staff members.
Abel-Palmieri said she could not discuss any human resources changes made as a part of the restructuring.
Barry and others said the changes at BGCWPA are being made at the expense of existing programs that were popular in the community.
He said the LaRosa club once offered substantial discounts to large families to allow them to send all of their children to afterschool programs and summer camp, he said.
Those discounts have been eliminated, Barry said, and he has been fielding complaints from parents whose children can now only send one child at a time to summer camp.
Abel-Palmieri said the changes that the Boys & Girls Clubs are making will increase overall financial aid opportunities for parents, and that funding from DHS will allow the clubs to serve more children in the community than before.
There have been other changes that have negatively affected local families, Barry said.
Until recently, families were allowed to sign up for memberships in person, and pay with cash or a check, he said. Now, Barry said, families must sign up online using a credit card.
Many low-income Mon Valley residents don’t have access to credit cards, Barry said. He called the changes “an attack on communities of color and poverty.”
Abel-Palmieri said that’s not true. The only method of payment no longer accepted is cash, she said. Families in Duquesne and McKeesport who previously paid with cash were able to pay with money orders this year, Abel-Palmieri said.
In addition, the Boys & Girls Clubs held open houses this year to help families register, she said.
Heywood, who created the online petition to save the current Duquesne-West Mifflin clubhouse, said the doors to the old center were locked without warning. Some residents still have personal items inside, she said.
In addition, the Duquesne-West Mifflin club used to offer summer programming for all students in kindergarten through eighth grade, Heywood said. This year, the club is only offering summer programs for children in kindergarten and grades 1 and 2.
According to Heywood, the new afterschool program has had 17 members sign up. The old club was able to host around 79 children and frequently had a wait-list, she said.
“Why are we funding a program like this?” Heywood said. “It’s not an asset to the City of Duquesne at all.”
Abel-Palmieri said the Boys & Girls Club is committed to staying in Duquesne and working to serve as many families as possible. The partnership with the school district will allow the club to widen its programming while improving its financial stability and serving more students, she said.
“No child will ever be turned away and we’re glad to have more space, a safer building and new STEM programming for our children,” she said.
Nick Zurawsky is a freelance writer in Pittsburgh. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published July 10, 2020.