Lara D’Antuono joined Boys & Girls Clubs of Warwick in 1994 as the organization’s child care director. She advanced to the position of development director before being named executive director in 2000. In this position, she oversees services provided to nearly 1,400 children in two branches, located in the Norwood and Oakland Beach sections of the city. A third branch, emphasizing the arts and dedicated to middle school students, is scheduled to open this fall. A Rhode Island native, D’Antuono earned her bachelor’s degree from Rhode Island College and resides in North Kingstown with her husband and two daughters.
PBN: The Boys & Girls Club of Warwick recently announced it will open a third location, the Club, in Warwick. What was the catalyst behind this additional facility?
D’ANTUONO: The need, pure and simple. Middle school students need our attention. This is a population at a complex stage in life, and they need support during what is normally a tumultuous and stressful period. The Club will be located directly across the street from the middle school.
The city of Warwick and Mayor Scott Avedisian came to us to partner in providing youth recreation programs at the Cooper Building, which they acquired from the federal government. This savvy partnership enables the city to turn a vacant building into a community asset, while presenting our organization with an ideal site to deliver exceptional opportunities that will help young teens find their passion, stay on track in school and develop good character and leadership traits.
PBN: How will programming on offer at the Club differ from what is already available for Warwick-based children?
D’ANTUONO: Programming at “the Club” will be solely focused on the needs of middle-school-aged children – providing them with opportunities to express themselves and discover healthy creative outlets that also build interest and skills in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math). There will be a teen center where kids will have access to homework help, yoga, dance and alternatives to traditional sports such as rock-wall climbing and flag football. We plan to be innovative and exciting.
A major programming emphasis, and reason behind much of the enthusiasm surrounding this venture, is the Arts Center within the new facility. We are establishing partnerships that will bring professional instruction in culinary and theater arts, 3-D imaging, app development, painting, photography, music and much more. Young teens will have unique chances to explore their perceived interests, refine their decision making, solve problems, exercise their imaginations and create visual and auditory manifestations of their abstract ideas.
PBN: What is the role of music in this new facility?
D’ANTUONO: Opportunity, education and performance activities are expected to nurture individuality, musical appreciation and skills. In this facet of our arts programming, we want to give youth access to investigate a wide array of musical genres, technology to create, mix and alter sound, teachers to deliver music education – we want to inspire young teens to practice as frequently as possible, take risks as well as perform and connect to the community.
One of the outstanding highlights of our Arts Center will be a contemporary recording studio featuring a control room, vocal booth and live room. Adjacent to that will be a practice room where kids can have lessons, experiment with a variety of instruments and practice on their own. Not only will youth have access to many different instruments they can try out, they will be able to use equipment that will allow them to professionally record their musical talents – both instrumental and vocal. As new recording innovations become available, we plan to routinely and aggressively seek funding so that the studio continually provides members with real-life creative situations and career training.
PBN: How has the community reacted to this announcement? Has there been a lot of excitement from the demographic served by the Boys & Girls Club of Warwick?
D’ANTUONO: There is a huge amount of excitement around this project. I think everyone remembers the awkward time in their life when they were in middle school: You aren’t a child in elementary school, you aren’t a teenager in high school; you are caught somewhere in between.
People recognize these years as pivotal, a point during which young teens need support from their community during those hours they are not in school. We hope, through this new branch that will offer both freedom to develop one’s individuality along with subtle guidance to stay focused on living their best life, kids will find their passion. Because once they find their passion, they will strive to reach new goals. They will want to continue to grow.
PBN: The project has received early funding from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts as well as the Rhode Island Foundation. Why do you think involvement by state-level organizations is important in after-school programming?
D’ANTUONO: It’s vital to our state that all of our youth have first-rate opportunities to develop their interests, skills and desire to innovate. It’s also important our leaders reaffirm that this learning does not begin and end at school. We are so happy that these influential establishments, as well as businesses such as Balise Auto Group, immediately came forward to help. Supporting this venture sends a signal to the broader community, confirming the new Club will give countless youth options that are truly exciting, build creativity and support imagination and resourceful risk-taking – instilling behaviors that help achieve goals.