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WESTMINSTER : Firefighters Give Club New Life

Firefighter Greg Speth, 31, moonlights on his days off, but not for money. He works for the benefit of children.

Sometimes alone, sometimes as late as midnight, Speth and dozens of his fellow firefighters are spending their days off to renovate the dilapidated Boys and Girls Club, hoping to resuscitate a program that once provided a haven for about 900 children.

“I just want to see the place opened up and give the kids a place to play,” Speth said, gliding a soaked paint roller across a corridor wall. “You’ve got to get the kids out of the streets. They need supervision. If they’re not here, they’re going to be out screwing around.”

With his hands, shoes and white T-shirt splotched with battleship gray paint, he joked that while he enjoys donating the labor, “it would have been easier to give a check.”

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The Boys and Girls Club went broke last January after fund-raising drives and bingo games failed to bring in enough income and the club’s debts mounted to more than $35,000. The single-story building at 14400 Chestnut Street was forced to shut its doors to hundreds of teen-agers and pre-teens.

Since then, club and city officials have been scrambling to find a way to reopen and fund the club, and restore what they say is a desperately needed community service offering inexpensive tutoring, athletic programs and field trips.

Councilwoman Lyn Gillespie, a member of the club’s board of directors, said prospects for reviving the club looked “really bleak” when it shut down. But months later, the City Council approved disbursing $70,000 in federal grant money to remove asbestos from the building and renovate it.

Also, club officials’ pleas for help sparked a boost in donations from the community. Board member Phil Anthony, 56, said that when the club starts up again, it will run with a skeleton staff--cutting annual expenses by half to about $100,000--then slowly build itself up again through fund-raisers. Also, he said some of the club’s remaining $20,000 debt may be forgiven.

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Children will continue to pay about $12 a year to join the club, he added. “The whole idea is to serve the kids that need the help, and everything is done to keep the cost as low as possible to them.”

Pleas for help also drew a vigorous response from the city’s firefighters. Since August, most of the city’s 70 firefighters have been spending their days off repainting the building, fixing a leaky roof and repairing walls. Over the next few weeks, new tile and carpeting will be installed. The firefighters’ union will also donate a pool table when the club reopens.

“It’ll be a brand-new building in there for (the children),” said Paul Gilbrook, president of the local firefighters’ union and a club board member.

Before the firefighters started work, the building “looked like an internal war zone,” Gillespie said. “It was filthy.” But now, more than 100 gaping holes kicked into the walls have been repaired, and each day fresh white and gray paint covers more of the interior. Gillespie said the firefighters also donated much of the paint, drywall and other materials needed to renovate the building.

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“My hope is that we will be able to reopen at our Westminster facility in June for the summer program,” she said. She added that the firefighters’ helpfulness “moved me to tears. I can’t even find the words, I’m just so overwhelmed by the care that employees have shown for the community.”


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