GARY | Friday's VIP opening celebration of what has become known as The Tolleston Project gathered much of the regional who's-who as well as the beneficiaries of their effort.
Clad in colorful red T-shirts, the city's youth escorted guests through the pristine halls of the newly refurbished Tolleston Middle School, now the home of the new John Will Anderson Club of The Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Indiana.
The JWA Drummers entertained about 250 VIPs who came to Friday's preview of Saturday's opening to the community.
Abundant red and blue balloons decorated the hallways and framed the speakers, who offered thanks to the many donors to the project, among them NIPSCO, which not only wrote a $1 million check but contributed a team to help move equipment from the old club at Fifth Avenue and Adams Street to its new location at 2700 W. 19th Ave.
The new gymnasium brought back fond memories for Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who spoke there 40 years ago as a student and president of the Junior National Honor Society.
"This is just awesome," Freeman-Wilson said. "What I really love about it is not only that it is something we're doing for kids, but a great example of how much good can happen when the entire community comes together."
Freeman-Wilson was lauded for contributing $750,000 toward demolition, the only public money expended in the multimillion-dollar project.
Honoree Bill Masterson Jr., former Times publisher, told the gathering the project actually began about five years ago with a $15 million estimate.
Masterson credited numerous donors, large and small, for helping the project reach a more realistic figure of $6 million, and interim board Director Michael Baird credited a talented, frugal staff with bringing the project in under its $6 million budget.
The club should be open to kids within the next two weeks, said Megan Henning, marketing manager of The Boys & Girls Club of NWI.
The classroom are completed as is the large gym donated by NIPSCO. Work still needs to be finished in a smaller gym and still to be added are a cafetorium, described as a lunchroom and library.
The new club has green space, with a soccer field and football field to which kids from all six area clubs be brought on a bus, Henning said.