Empowering the youth

The Capitol West Boys and Girls Club prepares for the opening of its facility in March

Story by ROBERTO ELGUERA

A community program that has been serving the public and creating opportunities for youth for more than 60 years in Salt Lake City is the Capitol West Boys and Girls Club.

The club has served as a gathering point for the youth in the Fair Park community since the 1980s. The club first started out in a local middle school and then moved to a location between West High School and the Guadalupe Church. Club Director Maren Miller called it, “A pretty ugly little cinderblock building, but we had a good time there.” Currently, the Capitol West Club will be moving to a new location in March 2020. “We just grew out of it and it was too small and the kids deserved more. So, we actually spent seven years looking for the perfect property that would allow us to stay in that same neighborhood,” Miller says. 

Even though the old building is no longer in use, the mission for the Boys and Girls Club remains the same. That is to Provide a safe place for youth and teens and give them an opportunity at a Great Future.” 

Today, the club is double the previous size. The new and improved facility will be able to host 250 youth a day. “The new building also has a second floor that we’re not completing that will allow us to grow even more, and when we max out the first floor, then we’ll have the opportunity to expand,” Miller says.

The Boys and Girls Club Capitol Campaign raised about $7 million in three years in preparation for the new building. This required plenty of phone calls to charitable foundations and fundraising. This funding will allow for more programs and resources for the youth that the old facility didn’t have. “There will be a big art center to be able to work on all different kinds of fine arts and visual arts. It also has a stage that we can use for our talent shows, plays, musical performances, and fashion shows,” Miller says. There will also be programs on Esports, technology, and life skills. 

The staff also observes the specific interests the youth need and plan it out on a month-to-month basis. One of the staff members who has been putting many years into the program is Rose Park’s Antonio Fierro.

Antonio Fierro (B-boy Alien) competing in a dance competition. Photo courtesy of Antonio Fierro.

Capitol West has been close to Fierro since he was a kid. He spent many hours after school practicing breakdancing (more commonly known as breaking in the Hip-Hop community). This work ethic led Fierro into more involvement with the club as a volunteer when he entered high school. “I started teaching back in 2012. I would just go there after school in my free time. I was still in high school, just going there teaching the youngsters.” 

Today, he has a paid position as a tutor and program director. He uses Hip-Hop culture along with his teaching to get the youth active and get in tune with their creativity. Alongside teaching the fundamentals, he keeps it true to the roots of the culture by teaching the history of where it all started. “During the years I got a lot of kids involved in Hip-Hop culture. Dancing especially, and over time I showed them other aspects of Hip-Hop, like emceeing, graffiti, and deejaying,” Fierro says. He calls his program, The Get Down.  

It’s all about empowering the youth. “In society you know, if you live in the hood amongst Chicanos, Polynesians, Blacks, we already have a stigma against us since birth. So Hip-Hop is like the empowerment. It’s like, ‘Damn, I could be somebody, you know?’ Just be proud to be brown, proud to be black and just get down on the floor and just celebrate our culture,” Fierro says. 

Along with embracing our differences, the club hopes to provide more educational resources such as after school tutoring. This will allow more students to get help with homework and preparation for exams. The club also gives students an opportunity to stretch their creative muscles to new heights outside of the classroom setting. And most important of all, the goal is to get the community’s youth more united with each other, no matter what background they may come from.

Fierro taking a photo with students after teaching. Photo courtesy of Antonio Fierro.

The club provides programs for students K-12. Both the elementary and teen programs will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Programs cost $20 each year. For families currently staying in motels or shelters, or under financial circumstances, the fee can be waived. For more information on transportation, email Club Director Maren Miller at mmiller@gslclubs.org or call 801-531-7652. The club will continue to keep its promise and provide the best services for the youth.