Honoring the Past, Looking to the Future

For 69 years the James J. Espy Boys & Girls Club has served as the oldest Club in Greater Cincinnati. As the needs of the Price Hill neighborhood have changed the Espy location is no longer the best option in meeting the needs of the neighborhood.

The Espy Club sits on a small lot with little to no room for outdoor activities. With no parking available, parents often park on Glenway and make the dangerous trip across the street to pick up their children.

“It’s a very small building, only 4,900 square feet. To give a sense of the demand we have from kids and families in the neighborhood, there have been days recently over the past few months where we’ve had more than 100 kids come through Club doors on a daily basis,” says Brent Seelmeyer, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati. “The facility is nowhere large enough. We’re never filling the rooms to unsafe levels or anything, but it stretches the capacity of the building and staff.”

As the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati celebrated its 75th anniversary, the nonprofit organization assessed the state of its current Clubs.

“As part of our 75th Anniversary Celebration Campaign, we looked at the best ways to allocate the resources we were securing through the campaign and one of them was investing in our existing Clubs. The Club in Price Hill desperately needed work so we went through an assessment of whether to keep the existing location or sell it and find a new location,” says Patrick Lafley, Board Chairman. “Long story short we decided to relocate the Club to build the new Sheakley Club and made it a cornerstone of how we were going to allocate the funds raised through this campaign.”

To determine the new location, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati ran an analysis of the addresses of existing members and found that a majority didn’t live near the current Espy Boys & Girls Club location. The organization settled on a location on the 4100 block of Glenway Avenue.

“It’s located in the perfect neighborhood to serve truly vulnerable kids. We are located within a short walk of several schools and there’s a lot more residential areas,” says Seelmeyer. “I’ve actually stood at the corner of Glenway and Dewey, right where the new Sheakley Club will be, at 3 p.m. on a school day and watched the kids walking down the street – just so many kids walking right by where we are going to be serving their neighborhood, and that gets me excited.”

The new location wouldn’t be possible without the support of the community. Philanthropists Larry and Rhonda Sheakley contributed $1.5 million for the lead naming gift of the new Club.

“I was asked to come look at the new project. I went over and looked at what they had at Lower Price Hill. The building, to put it mildly, was a disaster. They then took me up to see the proposal for the new location,” says Larry. “Rhonda was out of town at the time, so I called her that night and said, ‘Honey, when you come back you need to see this project. There is really a bad situation down there, they’re doing a new project and we need to be involved.’ So when Rhonda came back we went to look, and we both agreed to underwrite the initial major gift.”

“I became president two years ago and said, ‘Wow, we’ve got these other Clubs that are adequately sized and placed in very good locations for kids with accessibility, then you’ve got Price Hill and we’re not able to fully meet the needs of our youth. We’re not in the right place. I wanted to address it immediately. Several volunteers have told me, ‘Gosh, we’ve been talking about that for 20 years, but we’ve never been able to make it happen. So I am really grateful, we’ve had unbelievable support from the community,” says Seelmeyer. “Obviously, Larry and Rhonda Sheakley deserve a ton of praise, they’ve been generous to make the lead gift. We have other organizations that have been really instrumental – the Reds, Major League Baseball, Farmer Family Foundation, Fisher Family Foundation and numerous others have collectively made this entire project possible.”

The new 18,000 square foot Larry and Rhonda Sheakley Boys & Girls Club will open on July 14 – the same day as the MLB All-Star Game. “One of the significant things about the All-Star Game coming to Cincinnati this year is that Boys & Girls Clubs of America is the national charity of Major League Baseball so the ribbon cutting will actually be attended by baseball commissioner Rob Manfred as well as Bob Castellini and other baseball legends. It’s going to be a lot of fun,” says Lafley.

As part of the All-Star Game, MLB and the Reds have both contributed towards a new activity center. The All-Star Activity Center will be a full sized high school gym with several features including an indoor batting cage.

“Fun is the secret sauce. Think back to when you were a kid. Kids want fun. Our Graduate, Fit for Life, Ready to Serve program model helps provide the academic success, healthy lifestyles, and good character that are key in opening the door of opportunity to kids who need us most. But we make it all fun and engaging,” says Seelmeyer. “While they are having fun we are sprinkling in all of this wonderful youth development education and programming so they really are bettering their circumstances.”

In addition, to the new Larry and Rhonda Sheakley Boys & Girls Club the organization also recently added a new Club at Mercer Elementary in February of this year. While attending last year’s Blue Door Bash, Julie Drury, a reading instructor at Mercer Elementary, was inspired by the speeches she heard from last year’s Youth of the Year winner.

“The Youth of the Year got up and shared his story, it was very emotional and gut wrenching to hear how the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati had helped him get to where he was and that he was attending college,” says Drury. “I turned to my friend and said, ‘We need something like this in Newtown.’ Within a short period of time we were able to start the program.

“It’s a great program and it’s a positive place for them 

to be in the evening. It’s a safe environment for them to work on their homework and hopefully build a good work ethic so they can go on to college.” The Mercer Elementary Club has been well received within the community and hopes to expand in the future.

“Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati truly are a youth development organization. We are saving lives and we are improving the likelihood of success for our youth. We are not a babysitting service or a recreational center. It’s all about truly developing their talents and giving them the skills necessary to be successful in school and life.”


To learn more about the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati and their new projects, click here.