Special to the Press
Editorâ€™s note: This is the first part of a series that looks at the history and impact of the Boys & Girls Club of Bristol Family Center.
BRISTOL- In its 110 year history, the Boys & Girls Club of Bristol Family Center has changed the lives of countless children and teens.
Though today the club looks much different than it did over a century ago, its dedication to improving the lives of young people and preparing them for adulthood has not wavered.
â€śWe challenge them (the kids) to do as much as they can. We challenge them to build their dreams,â€ť said Michael Suchopar, who has been the clubâ€™s executive director for the past 10 years.
Suchopar himself was a member of the club as a child. He used to ride his bike down from Terryville to play basketball and swim. Over the years he has seen the club grow and change but always remain true to its core values.
The History of the Boys and Girls Club
It all started back in 1907 when Jennie Peck, a prominent community leader, saw the youth in town needed an environment to grow and become productive members of society. Together with her friends, she helped develop a club where boys could be physically active, make lasting friendships and learn to be responsible. That place would eventually become what we know as the Boys & Girls Club of Bristol Family Center.
Finding its original home on North Main Street, Mrs. C.F. Barnes, was named the first president. During her time, she would oversee a group of volunteers at the club, and also watched its membership grow.
By the time 1912 rolled around the club included 50 members and also named Pop Dillon as its first full-time superintendent. Two years later, the club joined the Boys & Girls Club of America, which was then called the Boys Club Federation of America. This now national organization originated nearby in Hartford in 1860.
Then, in 1918 the club moved to Old Town Hall where it stayed until 1923 when it moved to 105 Laurel St.
Once on Laurel Street, the superintendent at the time, James â€śChiefâ€ť Dobson, established what would become an instrumental part of the club: the Older Members Association.
Dobson created it after several members expressed that they wanted to remain active in the club though they had already turned 18-years-old. The association helped younger boys become active in their community and did fundraising for the organization.
The OMâ€™s paid dues to the club as part of their money raising efforts. The first year, dues were only 10 cents a week. Since the Older Members Association was established, they have dedicated themselves to fundraising for the club.
â€śAs kids we all looked up to the OMs (older members),â€ť said John Fosolo. Now in his 70s, Fosolo has been a member of the club since he was 7-years-old. He said that he met great friends there as a kid who heâ€™s still very close with today.
After college he became an OM. He was on the Older Members Associationâ€™s Board of Directors for nine years and was the president of the board for three years.
Fosolo said he became an OM because he wanted to give back to the club like the OMs before him did.
â€śIt was really like carrying on the tradition that goes back to before World War II,â€ť he said.
Then, in 1948, the Boys and Girls Club began to honor their exceptional young members by having a youth of the year. In 1977, the club began awarding the $2,000 Charles Kushlan Memorial Scholarship to one of its members.
Fosolo recalls when he was growing up in the club in the 1950s and 1960s it only had a gym, swimming pool and game room. There were a few classes that taught useful skills, such as woodworking. It was simply a place to go after school and on Saturdays, he said.
â€śItâ€™s become a lot more than that,â€ť said Fosolo.
Suchopar stated that back then there werenâ€™t as many activities as there are now. Over the years the club began to focus more on the educational needs of the children rather than just the recreation needs.
â€śOne beautiful thing about this organization is that itâ€™s been very successful at figuring out what kids need and providing it for them,â€ť Suchopar said. What kids need today is very different from what they needed even just 10 years ago, he added.
The club is now located at 255 West St.