A newly renovated space at the Boys & Girls Club of Evansville’s Bellemeade Avenue headquarters is stocked with books, computers, and comfortable seats.
But in dedicating the Panda Cares Center of Hope on Jan. 16, officials looked beyond the room’s physical properties. They viewed it as a spot where young minds would develop, and futures would take shape.
The project is the first of its kind in Indiana, and it was made possible by the charitable arm of the Panda Express restaurant chain, the Panda Cares Foundation. Wen Zhang, manager of Evansville’s Panda Express location at 2445 Menards Drive, was on hand to help trim the ribbon and hand the Boys & Girls Club a $10,000 donation on behalf of Panda Cares.
With a batch of club members looking on in matching T-shirts, Boys & Girls Club Board President Sid Dill told them about the fun and learning opportunities that awaited them in the center. The Boys & Girls Club welcomes children ages 6-18.
“It is your laughter that will fill this space,” said Dill, who as a child was a club member. “It’s your conversations, your ideas that’s going to make this space your own. We look forward to watching all of you learn and grow and thrive here. We know you will work and create and lead here, making lasting friendships that will extend beyond this room and the club.”
Executive Director Ron Ryan noted the Panda Cares Center has books and activities to engage in academically beneficial activities related to science, technology, engineering, math, and more. He told club members assembled for the grand opening that the space would be available for them, every day.
“When you go in here, tell your friends about this room, too,” Ryan said, “because I guarantee you’re going to be excited about it, and you’re going to be going to school and telling other kids about it and hopefully have them become members here at the club too.”
One person who could give first-hand knowledge about the impact of Boys & Girls Club facilities and programming is Ai’Zsoni Sherman, who joined at 6 years old and was the 2023 Boys & Girls Club local and state Youth of the Year and competed last year at the regional competition in Chicago, Illinois.
As a junior staff member, Sherman joined other officials in thanking Panda Cares for the donation that she said would enhance the club experience and make a difference in the lives of its members.
“This club means everything to us, and this space will undoubtedly be filled with learning, belonging, and fun,” Sherman said.