By Reggie Ellis

Since it closed in December 2001, the Memorial Hospital complex at San Juan and Crespi has remained vacant. The once vibrant, state-of-the-art facility was increasingly vandalized and forgotten as the years went by. Broken windows, graffiti tagged walls and fading paint only served as a reminder of the end of an era in Exeter's history. But its future and the future of the city look bright thanks to the continued growth of the Boys & Girls Club.

As the hospital continued to fade the Exeter Boys & Girls Club began to flourish. Since January 2005, the club has opened two locations in Farmersville, remodeled the Exeter location, began a partnership with six county school districts to provide afterschool programming and is nearing completion of a study, along with clubs in Visalia and Tulare, to identify youth needs throughout Tulare County. Whew!

As the club has grown, now called the Boys & Girls Club of the Sequoias, so has its staff. New growth has also meant additional staff members for fund-raising, bookkeeping, grant writing, marketing, programming, etc. to keep everything running. For months, five administrative staff members - Executive Director Joe Engelbrecht, Grant Administrator John Hobbs, Marketing and Fund Development Director Wendy Bishop, Area Director of Programming April McCormick and a receptionist - have been sharing one office at the Exeter club. With a future office position to be added this year, the club decided to relocate its administrative headquarters.

&#8220It was like working in a shoebox,” Engelbrecht said. &#8220We just need more room.”

Last week, several of the club's administrative staff moved into the Boswell Wing in the southeast portion of the former hospital.

&#8220We have had a lot of positive comments from people about putting this building back to good use,” Engelbrecht said. &#8220It was actually in good shape.”

After weeks of diligent scrubbing, sanding and painting by maintenance staff and administrators, the hospital is finally nearly ready to house all of the club's office staff. Handrails have been removed from the halls, curtain tracks taken down off the ceilings and soon the wide hospital doors will be replaced with a window inserts and standard sized doors.

&#8220We want to erase any bad memories of a closed hospital and have people start thinking of this as headquarters for two entities that serve our children,” Engelbrecht said, referring to the club and the school district.

The hospital complex is owned by Exeter Public Schools, which plans to move their district offices there sometime in the near future. Engelbrecht said the club has signed an initial five-year lease for the 7,500 square foot wing of the hospital. In addition to administrative offices, Engelbrecht said the space will be used for a Teen Center, which will include a game room, computer lab, learning center, art center, digital darkroom and an adjoining courtyard where teens can hang out after school. Located just down the street from the high school, the former hospital makes an ideal location for a safe after school hang out.

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