Last week, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington announced that they would be shuttering two of its District branches—-the historic Eastern branch in Capitol Hill and the popular Jelleff branch in Georgetown. One branch has announced that it will be fighting the bulldozers.
On Monday night, Jelleff’s board of directors approved a resolution condemning its parent organization and opposing the sale of their property. In a press release [PDF], it noted that the process by which the task force reached its conclusions was “secretive, flawed and excluding community involvement.”
Denis James, president of Jelleff’s board of directors, argues the parent organization’s decision used outdated data that produced unimaginative solutions. James should know; he served on the task force that produced the study. For one thing, he says, it relied on 2000 census data and assumed that each club only took in kids from within a one-mile radius of their location, and the group never discussed selling off all or parts of Camp Brown, a 168-acre summer camp in Scotland, Md.
Will Gunn, Greater Washington’s president and CEO, says the study didn’t just look at the 2000 census but also examined population estimates based on 2005 data and studied how many kids come to a club per day. (Read the group’s press release about the study.)
Gunn insists that his goal is not to become the next Jim Abdo or Douglas Jemal. “We’re not interested in being in the real-estate business,” he says. “We’re interested in the youth-development business.” But, he concedes, “One of the few assets that we have is real estate….I have property in some cases [that’s] fairly valuable.”
“I understand fully that this is a very tough decision and for many people it’s an emotional decision,” he says, but notes that the proposal has received broad support across the organization. “It means change. And change is hard.”
The club’s closing isn’t just a blow to Georgetown, but to kids citywide. According to James, 6,000 kids were members last year—-kids that came from all over the city to use the facility’s basketball court, pool, and soccer field.
Of the 6,000, many came from Adams Morgan, providing many kids from low-income housing with quality facilities they can’t get in their own neighborhood.
“[Jelleff] actually functioned like a real league,” says Bryan Weaver, an Adams Morgan advisory neighborhood commissioner. “Who won the Jelleff league was important.” Weaver estimates that in 2006, his neighborhood sent at least 60 kids to the club as part of its basketball and soccer leagues.
Weaver says the neighborhood kids were “dumbfounded” by the news. “A lot of kids in the neighborhood, they view it in very much terms of race and class-‘Oh, of course they would sell off that one.’ They view it as, it’s in a white neighborhood, there’s tons of black and Hispanic kids who use it—-let’s get rid of that one.”
“It’s going to be a shame if the city doesn’t step in,” Weaver says.
James says he has submitted an alternative to Gunn & Co.’s plan: Instead of dismantling Jelleff, they would expand the facility’s charter school—-a plan that could net a $700,000 surplus per year.
So far, Gunn has not issued a formal response. “They are determined to find out what the open market would bring,” James says. Regarding the charter-school proposal, Gunn says only that he is open to any and all ideas for the site.