The Cliff Hagan Boys & Girls Club has merged its C. Martel Wightman Unit in Rolling Heights with the Mike Horn Unit on the city’s west side.

It’s a move that has been on the drawing board about a year, said Steve Winkler, executive director.

The Wightman Unit’s memberships and enrollments have been shrinking, Winkler said.

It used to serve a total of up to 450 kids a year, but that’s down to about 260. In the past, up to 60 kids attended the after-school program, but that number has dropped to about 35.

“We’re not leaving these kids,” Winkler said. “We’re just leaving a building that was stretching us financially.”

Boys & Girls Club officials have a plan in place to transport students from the Wightman Unit to the Mike Horn Unit for after-school activities and will continue to provide virtual programming.

Five staff members who worked at the Wightman Unit will merge into the Mike Horn Unit as well.

Club officials vacated the Wightman Unit around the first of May.

In 2015, federal budget cuts for the local housing authority’s social programs nearly closed the Wightman Unit, but the Michael E. Horn Family Foundation donated $51,000 to the club, which kept the Wightman Unit open the rest of that year.

Then, Owensboro Public Schools leased part of the Wightman Unit for an alternative school program. Funds from the lease agreement kept the unit financially viable another couple of years — until the school district moved the alternative school into a permanent facility last year.

“When they left, we had to go back to funding it again,” Winkler said.

For years, the club has put a “Band-Aid on it financially,” he said of the Wightman Unit. Multiple units in one city stretches resources.

Merging Owensboro’s units is part of a bigger restructuring plan, Winkler said.

For example, the local Boys & Girls Club has taken the Butler County unit under its wing. It will open a unit in Ohio County next month.

The club also operates units in Rockport, Indiana, and Henderson.

And other clubs, such as Union County, have requested services from the Owensboro-based club.

“By merging under one umbrella, we can share resources, increase our buying power, reach more youth on site and open other grant opportunities,” a Boys & Girls Club press release said.

Virtual programming during COVID-19 has demonstrated to Boys & Girls Club officials that providing services in a new community does not necessarily mean leasing a building and adding staff. Online programming may be the answer to reaching more children without using additional resources, Winkler said.

Also, the virus has caused a great deal of financial stress for many businesses and grantors that are major Boys & Girls Club contributors.

Merging Owensboro’s two units into one is a sound business decision, Winkler said.

“We are being true to our donors and fulfilling the mission,” he said.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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