When the Boys & Girls Club (BGC) of Warwick expanded into the Cooper Building, Executive Director Lara D’Antuono knew it was going to have a special purpose. Just a short walk from Warwick Veterans Middle School, D’Antuono wanted to serve sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, a period in life she believes we can all acknowledge is awkward and difficult – particularly for those kids who aren’t part of a sports team or academic group.
“If [those kids] can find their passion, they’re going to glow,” says D’Antuono. This is the mission behind the converted space that is now The Club at Cooper. Three years ago, the City offered to pay occupational expenses in exchange for the BGC to use the building for recreational purposes. One year ago, The Club officially opened, and just a few months ago, additional rooms were transformed with funding from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.
“We teach [the kids] that their passions and interests can be a future for them,” D’Antuono explains. This means that if a child likes anything from makeup to selfies, BGC shows them how to turn that into something bigger: They can become a special effects makeup artist or professional photographer.
With regards to the space, D’Antuono says, “We want it to move and flow and grow and have a heartbeat.” And it certainly does. In addition to their wellness center, virtual gym, and “messy” art room, The Club now has spaces for creativity with a technical twist. A “tech” room contains 3D printers, laptops, cameras, and more for video creation; a new recording studio lets kids experiment with sound boards and make their own beats; and a video editing room boasts state-of-the-art software. BGC brings in professionals to demonstrate how to use the equipment and instruments, a luxury most families can’t afford. The mix of old and new, from VR games to sewing classes, lets kids find not only what interests them, but what
“It does change lives,” D’Antuono says, recalling many stories of shy and marginalized kids flourishing with their newfound skills, passions, and community.
While BGC has other locations in the city, D’Antuono and her colleague, Development Director Eleanor Acton, believe The Club at Cooper stands out. From paid internships in video and sound for young kids – described as a “superprogram” by Acton – to the ever-evolving approach to the arts – like a stand-up comedy program formed by a particularly witty middle schooler – The Club is setting a new standard for community organizations.
“I’ve been working [with BGC] for 22 years,” D’Antuono says, “and this place is different.” Warwick