When Dane County Boys & Girls Club President and CEO Michael Johnson first eyed the vacant church off Windsor Street in Sun Prairie more than two years ago, he realized its potential.
“I was so excited that I called our board president and told them we don’t have a single penny, but this is going to be our next Boys & Girls Club,” Johnson said.
Two years later, The McKenzie Family Boys & Girls Club is set to open with donors, community officials and elected officials getting their first glimpse of the finished facility during a Jan. 15 ribbon-cutting event.
There was plenty to check out in the 21,000 sq. ft., three-level facility that’s the biggest DCBG club in the organization’s history.
Modern and bright, the club has new furniture, a cafeteria, playrooms, sitting areas, computer rooms and colorful murals on the walls. Gone are the former Peace Lutheran Church pews and the altar, and in its place are game tables where teens can hang out.
The club at 232 Windsor St. will open Feb. 3 and serve more than 190 kids each day with childcare and afterschool programming for preschoolers to college and career-bound teens.
The Sun Prairie club is the first club to offer preschool services that will be affordable for low-income households.
Teens can drop in after school for as little as $10 a year membership and hang out, take a Grow with Google digital skills online class, get creative in the music studio or learn skills to prepare them for a career and college. The kitchen, overseen by Chef Patrick Goolsby, is already set with healthy food options—basil tomato soup, steamed carrots, and herb-baked chicken — for its Feb. 3 debut.
In summer, there will be outdoor play areas and a club garden. Kids will also get a lift to the club.
Johnson calls it a “country club for kids” with all the perks.
“We are going to bus kids from school to this facility, we are going to feed them, and educate them in an engaging and enriching environment,” Johnson said. “This facility is going to impact and change a lot of lives.”
Once the debt on the Sun Prairie club is paid off, Johnson said DCBGC is going to start on a skilled trades and entrepreneur facility.
DCBGC, through its two Madison clubs, has partnered with the Sun Prairie Area School District and Sun Prairie Community Schools for years with programming, free lunches, and summer camps.
But, Johnson said, it was always a goal to open a Sun Prairie club.
The Sun Prairie Boys and Girls Club got a boost when Madison area real estate developers John and Jo Ellen McKenzie donated $1 million to the project.
John McKenzie said Johnson’s vision for the Sun Prairie club motivated him to offer the donation. He said he was amazed when he toured the facility.
“It is exciting to walk down there and think about those little kids who are going to show up for school prepared and will be ready to compete,” McKenzie said at the Jan. 15 ceremony.
The project, Johnson said, had support from contractors, companies, including QBE, local non-profits, and individuals who donated materials, volunteered and offered in-kind services.
Johnson said $1.9 million has been raised so far, and another $100,000 in contributions are coming in during the next couple of months. The club also received $600,000 from Dane County through a competitive grant process.
“We still have $900,000 to raise to close out the debt on the facility, so we can start a second phase entrepreneur and skills trade center,” Johnson said, urging people to donate any amount that they could to the Sun Prairie club.
The club received a $150,000 interest-free loan and a $50,000 contribution from the City of Sun Prairie.
Sun Prairie Mayor Paul Esser said it’s money well spent for a club that’s a great fit for the community.
“What the Boys & Girls Club is doing here aligns with our community’s beliefs that kids are important and we have an obligation to support those kids,” Esser said.
When Esser and City Economic Development Director Neil Stechschulte brought up the former church building as a potential club site, Johnson said he was so excited that he went right from the meeting to tour the building. Esser said Johnson’s vision turned the vacant site into a club in just two years.
“This was a tired building, and the rest of us saw disrepair, but Michael could see hope,” Esser said.
As Johnson, donors and club staff cut the red ribbon opening the facility, he welcomed Sun Prairie to the club.
“This is your community center,” Johnson said. “Utilize it during the day, utilize it on weekends and help us reach kids in this community and let’s go out and change a bunch of lives.”