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DANVILLE — When Rob Gifford takes calls from parents who want their children to attend the Danville Boys and Girls Club, he has to explain that their names will be added to the bottom of a wait list of 100.

“Easily, I could double that,” Gifford, the club’s executive director, said of the list. “There’s such a huge need in this community. We still have so many kids going home alone, who need some place to go that’s structured.”

The 22,000-square-foot facility that sits in the city-owned Garfield Park was built 16 years ago. Currently, it counts 215 kids ranging in age from 6 to 18 as club members, with a 70 percent weekly attendance rate. That means 160 to 175 kids are at the club every day after school — up from about 70 a day as recently as seven years ago.

But the facility — which also hosts a 10-week summer program — is at its maximum capacity, particularly with teens.

“We are busting at the seams with older kids,” said Gifford, who calls it “a great problem to have.”

Until recently, dreams of expanding — be it by building up (adding a second floor) or out — seemed far-fetched. And then, in June, state lawmakers passed a major gambling expansion bill that called for putting a long-awaited casino in Danville.

Weeks after that, Gifford took a call from Vermilion Advantage CEO Vicki Haugen, who told him she had some businessmen interested in investing in the community who wanted to swing by.

Knowing that Haugen, Danville Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. and other city officials were working with prospective casino developers at the time, Gifford wondered if that’s who was coming. He met the two men on their visit, Gifford said, but wasn’t told their affiliation or exactly what they were considering.

Then on Oct. 1, when aldermen chose the developer it would partner with on a Danville casino and resort, Williams called Gifford to tell him Haven Gaming LLC had pledged $1 million to the Boys and Girls Club.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think something like this would pop up,” Gifford said. “I was so overjoyed when I heard the news.”

Even better: The $1 million is up-front money that the club is slated to receive before the first phase of casino construction is even finished. That could be sometime next year; the Illinois Gaming Board has up to one year from the application deadline (Oct. 28) to issue a casino license to Haven Gaming and spur construction.

“If we get that money, it’s strictly to build onto the club,” Gifford said, explaining that then will come the challenge of adding staff and increasing overhead and programming costs.

“Which is a good challenge,” said Gifford, adding that the impending minimum-wage increase to $15 an hour will bump up the personnel line under operational costs — by 82 percent once the wage boost is phased in completely, set for Jan. 1, 2025.

“We have some challenges ahead, but we are working hard to make sure we’re efficient and effective with the number of kids we have, and our mission is to serve as many kids as we can,” Gifford said.

In the coming months, Gifford said he and the board will begin planning what a building addition would entail.

“Once we get some contractors to give me bids, we can figure out what we can do,” Gifford said.

Reporter

Tracy Crane is a Danville-based reporter for The News-Gazette. Her email is tcrane@news-gazette.com.