Changing Lives for over 100 Years

100 Years of Changing Lives

What started on Christmas Day in 1913 as a clubhouse for 50 boys in Southport has evolved into a thriving organization known today as Wakeman Boys & Girls Club. In 2013, Wakeman celebrated 100 years and we now serve over 4,000 youth through its three vibrant sites in Southport, Fairfield and Bridgeport.

With its illustrious history, Wakeman continues to offer girls and boys access to a wide range of academic, artistic, athletic and community service activities with an admirable mission -- "to guide and inspire young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring and responsible citizens.”

"At Wakeman, we strive to instill in our members the values that lead to a happy and fulfilling life,” says Dave Blagys, Executive Director for the past 30+ years. "Each of our three clubhouses provide kids with a sense of independence combined with a sense of belonging and being part of a community built on mutual respect. Our mission is the foundation on which Wakeman is built.”

As often is the case with significant milestones, anniversaries afford the opportunity for reflection on the past, appreciation of the present and excitement for the future. "We arrived at this landmark occasion through the remarkable generations of staff, directors, trustees, volunteers and members whose foresight, wisdom and energy contributed greatly to Wakeman’s success today,” says Blagys. Stunt Night 1924                                             

Building on the Past
Wakeman Boys Club originally opened on Harbor Road in Southport thanks to a generous $40,000 endowment established by cousins, Frances and Cornelia Wakeman Crapo, in honor of their grandfather Jesup Wakeman. It was their goal to establish a club that would "provide inducement to, and means for, the mental, moral and physical improvements of the young people who come within its reach.” By 1954, membership had grown from 50 to 500 and a larger clubhouse was built next to the train tracks on Center Street.

Athletics were viewed as the primary pursuit for most early Wakeman members. It was a means to build character through sportsmanship. Activities included basketball, baseball, football, soccer, badminton, tennis, boxing, and Hocker, a game invented by a local judge John Norton, that combined skills from a variety sports.

For parents and community leaders it became evident that Wakeman’s activities were transformational for many who walked through its doors. Its reputation spread across town as a positive place where young people could thrive and grow toward responsible adulthood beyond their family and school life.

Red Baker Gym
By the mid-60’s, baby boomer kids were flocking to Wakeman, walking to or getting dropped off at the clubhouse after school or on weekends on a regular basis. Through in-house and travel basketball teams kids met and mingled with other kids from all over town. For many the social boundaries previously defined by school and neighborhood faded away.

Appreciation of the Present
In the last 50 years, Wakeman has experienced steady incremental growth in programs and membership particularly after 1983 with the addition of female members which was reflected in the organization’s name change to Wakeman Boys & Girls Club. In order to captivate the diverse interests of its membership, year by year, the program inventory grew from athletics to education, character & leadership development, the arts, and health & lifetime skills.

Wakeman’s Southport Clubhouse has expanded over the last three decades and today is equipped with two basketball courts, a community room, an arts studio, a game room, a weight training center and a technology room. Just outside the front door, there is a turf field where programs such as lacrosse, field hockey, flag football and Ultimate Frisbee take place. In addition, an adjacent SportCourt surface features two outdoor basketball/tennis courts.

Outreach and service groups have grown roots at Wakeman. The Torch Club for seventh and eighth graders and the Keystone Club for high school kids, helps members stretch their leadership, organizational and social skills while making meaningful contributions to the community and having fun along the way.

2012 Youth of YearIn the past 15 years, Wakeman has expanded beyond the original Southport Clubhouse to bring its quality programming and value-based, youth-oriented mission to more communities and families than ever before.  

Smilow-Burroughs Clubhouse
In 1998, collaboration began with the Burroughs Community Center located in the West End of Bridgeport. This successful partnership led to a capital fund raising effort which culminated in the 2011 opening of the Smilow-Burroughs Clubhouse. This 23,000 square foot, LEEDS certified facility has already served more than 1,200 children in the Bridgeport community.

Stratfield Clubhouse
In 2003, Wakeman opened the Stratfield Clubhouse in a town owned facility at Owen Fish Park before moving to the First Presbyterian Church. The Stratfield Clubhouse served members in grades 3 to 8 who lived in the northern section of Fairfield. To better serve our members in facilities owned by the organization, the Stratfield Clubhouse was closed in August of 2014. Members previously served there are now being served at our other clubhouses. This decision allowed us to meet the needs of those members much more efficiently. 

100 Foul Shots
McKinley Outreach Program
In 2005, Wakeman established an after-school program at McKinley Elementary School, a Fairfield public school with a very diverse student body. Annually, more than 100 high school students serve as mentors to the students at McKinley assisting them with homework help and socialization skills. In addition a series of recreation and enrichment programs are offered at McKinley throughout the school year.

The outreach programs at McKinley School and the creation of the thriving Smilow-Burroughs Clubhouse have enriched all members involved. These efforts have given witness to the many ways Wakeman’s mission is still relevant and flourishing today and how it will continue to offer engaging opportunities for future generations of kids.
Building a Future
Wakeman’s success over the past 100 years can be attributed to many factors. It is due to the thousands of alumni who walked through its doors, rolled up their sleeves (or tied up their sneakers) and got involved. Its success is also measured by the boys and girls who opened Wakeman’s doors wobbly and unsure of themselves and walked out those same doors years later with new friendships, more confidence and gratitude for their Club experiences.

Wakeman’s success is also due to 100 years of dedicated staff members and volunteers serving as trustees, donors, coaches, mentors, event planners and community partners. Together, they were the visionary stewards of Wakeman’s mission and champions of programs that engaged, motivated and kept pace with youthful aspirations. "Not unlike a family, school or church, it’s the array of personalities, staff and volunteers, who have had an unwavering commitment to the Club’s mission and, in doing so, have ultimately helped to shape the futures of thousands of youngsters along the way,” noted Blagys.

100th MemberOver the next 100 years, the future of Wakeman Boys & Girls Club will likely include an ongoing commitment to outreach, to guide and inspire as many young lives as possible. As in the past, it will be dependent on the ingenuity and engagement of new members and volunteers who walk through its doors and take their place as the custodians of Wakeman’s legacy. They were there in the past. They are here today. The door to Wakeman’s future remains open to all who come within its reach.

You can help future generations of Wakeman members achieve great things by visiting the link below and making a donation to Wakeman Boys & Girls Club. Thank you!  

Learn more about how we celebrated our 100th Anniversary.
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