A primary donor for the Boys and Girls Club was the Brady family, including Jeannelle and Brian Brady (C, R) and Jeanelle’s mother, Mary Naquin (L)

A primary donor for the Boys and Girls Club was the Brady family, including Jeannelle and Brian Brady (C, R) and Jeanelle’s mother, Mary Naquin (L)

The launch of the Elkhart Boys and Girls Club was officially ushered in Wednesday (Nov. 1) afternoon as around 280 people gathered for a grand opening ceremony held at the new facility built alongside Beardsley Elementary School.

The $6.2 million multifacility project, which became a major fundraising project for the local RV community, represents a partnership between the Boys and Girls Club of Elkhart and the Elkhart Community School System. The club is dedicated to Jeannelle and Brian Brady, former executive with Coachmen Industries Inc., Holiday Rambler Corp. and Damon Corp., and most recently co-founder and president of Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC before retiring in April of 2012.

The centerpiece for the new club is an 8,000 square-foot shared gymnasium. The facility also provides 12,000 square feet of multipurpose space that accommodates a variety of activities including areas designated for hands-on education and learning, arts and crafts, socialization and recreation.

“It’s really a unique partnership,” reported Kevin Deary, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Elkhart County. “When school is in session, they can use the space and then the facility is open to the club during after-school hours.”

Brian Brady addresses the crowd during the grand opening

According to Deary, the new facility is consolidating existing clubs that ran in partnership with Osolo and Beardsley Elementary Schools and Northside Middle School, utilizing space during after-school hours.

“We are still running the extensions right now,” Deary told RVBUSINESS.com, noting the Elkhart Boys and Girls Club currently services 350 area children a day. “We have a punch list of construction items that need to be completed to outfit the new club, so we’re not yet up and running. The plan is to open up for the Beardsley children right after Thanksgiving and then bring Osolo and Northside kids in during early January after Christmas holiday.

“Our long-term goal is to open two more clubs through partnerships with adjacent schools over the next few years,” he added. “This club just serves the northeast part of Elkhart, which has a high rate of poverty, so we’re in the right place. But we are certainly needed in other locations.”

Deary stressed that the RV industry was instrumental in the project, most notably Brady and his wife, Jeannelle, who served as primary fundraisers for the new club.

“The Bradys were significant donors, along with Elkhart Community Foundation,” Deary said. “They laid the groundwork for the capital campaign and donated the first and largest gift. Brian was the first person we approached to be a donor.”

Also spearheading early donations was LCI Industries CEO Jason Lippert in tandem with Dan Morrison, co-CEO of Heritage Financial.

“Jason and Dan organized the RV world to put together the campaign,” he said. “They came together a year and a half ago to jumpstart the ‘RV Challenge’ fundraising program that was a tremendous success. Jason really went above and beyond helping us, as did the RV industry as a whole.”

Deary noted that the RV industry’s support is significant as the Boys and Girls Club is currently helping to develop “future employees of the industry.”

“Our entire program in Elkhart County services 5,000 kids, and, on average, 10 to 20% go to college. That means we are potentially going to put 4,000 high school graduates into the local workforce,” he said. “We really see what we are doing as an economic development project. We are striving to build a pipeline of future employees for the RV and other local industries. We are excited, and purposeful, to accomplish that.”