In about 20 months or so, teenager Chalecia Trotter won't have to play basketball in the cafeteria anymore.
Trotter, along with others who participate in Girls Inc. sports programs, will be running the court in a new regulation gym that's part of a $15 million, 55,000-square-foot addition to the agency's after-school center near 45th and Maple Streets.
Plans for the addition will be announced at a press conference this morning. In an interview, Girls Inc. Executive Director Roberta Wilhelm said the gym and a health clinic will be the hallmarks of the new space, filling a longtime need.
The addition also will house the center's first locker rooms, a new teen center, media and fitness centers, a roof garden and an educational kitchen.
About $13.5 million of the cost is already in hand, Wilhelm said. Initial donors were the Lozier Foundation, the William and Ruth Scott Family Foundation, the Sherwood Foundation, the Peter Kiewit Foundation, the Weitz Family Foundation and the Daugherty Foundation, with smaller gifts from Cox Communications and the Adah and Leon Millard Foundation.
The current gym shares space with the room where the girls eat dinner, Wilhelm said.
As many as 250 girls, mostly from low-income families, participate in programs at Girls Inc. each day, including sports. The basketball court in the cafeteria is well shy of regulation size. That's a handicap for girls who play in YMCA leagues or on high school teams.
Barbara Robinson, Trotter's mother, said the new gym will be great for her daughter, who turns 14 in a couple of weeks.
“She loves any sport there is,” Robinson said. “To me, what it will mean is that she will have a safe, structured environment for her sports activities.”
And since there will be adult supervision, unlike at other places where Trotter might play, “I won't have to worry about anything,” Robinson said.
Wilhelm said the addition — designed by the Architectural Offices in Omaha — will benefit all of the center's participants, girls from ages 5 to 18. But it's especially welcome for teens. They will be separated more from the younger girls, and there will be more space for classes about such things as relationships and the transition to college or the working world.
After-school programs are just as crucial for older girls as they are for younger ones, Wilhelm said.
“Moms of little girls think their girls need day care,” she said. “Moms of teens don't think they need it.” But teens left home alone after school can get into plenty of trouble, she added.
The health center also will be important for teens, she said. Girls Inc. partners with physicians who offer pro bono evaluations of hearing, vision and weight, as well as tests for sexually transmitted diseases. Those services now are performed in the corner of a classroom with little privacy.
Girls Inc. has been talking with area health care providers, such as the University of Nebraska Medical Center, One World Health Center and Charles Drew Health Center, about collaborating on the clinic. It would be open during hours that traditional clinics are not.
Wilhelm said programs elsewhere have shown that if teenage girls are at an evening event, such as a dance, they may take the time to go to an on-site clinic for an STD test, especially if they have built up trust with clinic personnel.
And, she said, “there's an STD epidemic in this ZIP code.”
Immunizations, school and sports physicals, and outpatient services for sick children and adolescents also are planned for the clinic.
Wilhelm said she envisions Girls Inc. clients and alumnae making the clinic their health care home.
She also dreams of creating housing for young women who are aging out of foster care around the Girls Inc. campus. Fifty percent of the teenagers served by the agency and 22 percent of all its girls are in foster care.
Girls Inc. personnel and board members have discussed an addition to the building for about seven years, Wilhelm said, and the plans have morphed. The Girls Inc. mission is to create strong, smart and bold young women, “and we looked at those when we considered what we needed,” she said.
They considered tearing down the building and starting from scratch, but decided to make the addition compatible with the architecture of the old building, which had been Clifton Hill Elementary School before Girls Inc. relocated its headquarters there in 1992.
The agency is launching a capital campaign to raise the remaining $1.5 million needed for the addition, giving families and individuals, regardless of their means, a chance to have a stake in it.
Groundbreaking will be in the spring of next year, and the addition is expected to be completed about a year and a half later.
Girls Inc. expansion renderings
Click on a rendering for a closer look.