On April 22nd, 2023, Olivet Boys & Girls Club will be celebrating its’ 125th anniversary as an organization. A founding-chartered member of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Olivet Boys & Girls Club served nearly 5,000 youth at seven sites located in Reading and Berks County in 2022.
The Club was founded in 1898 with the mission “To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as healthy, caring, productive, responsible citizens.”
The Olivet Boys & Girls Club has a strong reputation for providing life-changing experiences to its members, including mentoring experiences with diverse, trained and caring staff and volunteers who want to make a difference in the life of a child. A detailed, brief history of the organization is below.
The 125th anniversary year-long celebration will kick-off on Friday, April 21st with a special birthday bash. The birthday bash will take place at the Clinton Street Club, one of the original Olivet Boys and Girls Club sites (677 Clinton St.) at 6pm which will engage the Olivet Team, Club Members, in addition to community stakeholders and elected officials.
Additional events to engage the community and Club alumni are being scheduled and planned throughout the year, including a special alumni reunion at the annual Olivet Boys & Girls Club Golf Invitational, August 13th and 14th at The Berkshire Country Club. The Club encourages all alumni to reach out to the organization (email@example.com) to learn more about upcoming anniversary events and great opportunities to become involved with the celebrations and youth.
“Olivet Boys & Girls Club continues to be a positive force in the community. The safe haven and holistic programming that our Clubs provide is needed now more than ever for youth to thrive and achieve bright futures. New, strategic initiatives, facility upgrades, and a team of passionate, dedicated individuals will ensure that the organization continues to serve youth and families for years to come,” said President and CEO, Chris Winters.
Monday evening, April 10th, Reading City Council kicked off the year of celebrations by providing a commendation to Olivet Boys & Girls Club Chairwoman, Rachel Kuhn, and President and CEO, Chris Winters, during a City Council meeting. The 125th Anniversary celebration is also occurring as the City of Reading celebrates their 275th Birthday this year.
A Brief History of Olivet Boys & Girls Club
William “Mac” McCormick, a successful journalist and entrepreneur, founded Olivet Boys Club in 1898 in order to give boys a safe place to be children. During the Industrial Revolution, Reading became a crucial center for steel and iron products, factories, and railroads, which required many workers. Parents were working long hours in the factories, and at a young age, children started joining them in the workforce. This was the beginning of the Boys Club movement in the United States, and the Olivet Club was one of the first 50 clubs to join the Boys Club of America. McCormick wanted to give the working boys a place to play and avoid the dangers of the streets like drinking and smoking. The Club moved 23 times in 32 to different locations throughout Reading. With donations, William Luden, another wealthy entrepreneur in Reading, McCormick opened five clubs in the city where boys could pay five cents to join the club. Any boy could join the club regardless of race, and with the changing demographic of the city in the 50s and 60s, the demographic of the club changed as more African Americans moved into Reading.
The Clinton Street Club, which is still standing today, was the first building constructed for the club, and as such, it is called Club No. 1. It offered a reading room, bowling alleys, pool tables, gymnasium/auditorium, stage, cooking area, outside playground, and an outdoor pool, which was the largest in Pennsylvania at the time.
The second club was located in West Reading in an abandoned movie theatre. Called the Otto Boys Club after its director, this club was appreciated in the neighborhood with its gymnasium, basketball court, and activities for boys, girls, and adults. The third club was donated to Olivet by Reverend W.F. Klein and located by Pendora Park. Sports were also prevalent in this club as well as the other.
The Mulberry Street Club, or Club No.4, was converted to a club from a movie theatre and a blacksmith’s shop and is still standing today. This was the only self-sufficient Olivet Club. Opened in 1921, the fifth club was in Shillington and was short-lived. When McCormick died suddenly in 1923, only Club No.1 and No. 4 stayed open with the help of the Luden family, and Olivet did not start expanding again until the 1990s with the opening of Oakbrook.
Until the 1990s, Olivet alumni participated in the Old Timers where they received newsletter from the club and met every year for dinner. Sports were essential to the clubs, especially basketball, baseball, wrestling, swimming, and track.
While these were almost exclusively for boys, although girls were occasionally allowed to use the pool when the boys were away, there were clubs for girls in the early years. Girls could join the Girls’ Club, the Working Girls Club, and the Junior Girls’ Club where they could play games, dance, craft, and socialize, although the girls’ clubs did struggle to find places to meet. The women in the community were active in Mother’s Club until 1929 when the Ladies Auxiliary was formed by Gertrude Moyer.
From the club’s beginning, women volunteered to teach class, run the kindergarten, run clubs, and organize the gardens at Olivet, and eventually women became paid staff in the 1980s and joined the Board of Directors around 1990.
Throughout the years, girls were not allowed to join the club, but they attended some co-ed events and became informal members of the club. In 1990, the name changed to Olivet Boys & Girls Club, and girls were able to join the club as official members.