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Wakeman Crosses Borders to Expand Club

David Blagys has expanded the Wakeman Boys & Girls Club's reach in the 30 years he's been there. When he started in 1981, Wakeman served 850 kids in Southport. In 2009, it served more than 3,500 throughout Fairfield.

But starting next summer, he'll stretch the scope even farther—across the border into Bridgeport, and hopefully to 2,500 more kids.

"It's just really gratifying to be able to provide what we do here to a greater population of kids," says David, the executive director. "Our impact has been very good in this community, and I think others will see first-hand what we're doing."

In 2003, Wakeman opened its second clubhouse, at the First Presbyterian Church in the Stratfield section of town. Combined with an after-school program at McKinley, the new center provided kids in less affluent areas of Fairfield with a safe place to go after school, on weekends and on holidays.

But David did not stop there. At about the same time, he partnered with the Burroughs Community Center in Bridgeport's West End. After a few years of running occasional programs together, Wakeman decided to help Burroughs build an athletic center to complement the more classroom-oriented center.

But when funding stalled, local philanthropist Joel Smilow stepped up. A longtime supporter of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, he was happy to see Wakeman reaching out to Bridgeport. But he was not content to build just a gym. At Joel's urging, David increased the plans to build a full clubhouse, doubling the building's size and utility.

The new Smilow-Burroughs clubhouse will differ from Wakeman's original home not just in location, but in focus as well. David says most kids who use the Southport location come for planned activities—sports leagues, summer camp or yearlong classes.

Burroughs will have those as well when it opens next summer. But David sees the clubhouse more as a place where the 2,500 kids within walking distance can drop in for an afternoon and bounce from activity to activity. The staff's main focus will be educational support, socialization skills and leadership development.

"It took many years to get where we are now [in Southport]," David says. "We'll get there, but not right away."

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