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Where the boys and girls are

Community: The nonprofit Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley is a safe, affordable afterschool

Posted: November 11, 2010 7:30 p.m.
Updated: November 12, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Jordan Hammonds gets help with multiplication from Adam Greene, 14, right, at the Boys & Girls Club in Newhall. Greene has been volunteering at the club for two weeks.

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It’s 3 p.m. Wednesday, and there’s a whirlwind of activity at the Boys & Girls Club facility in Newhall.

In one corner, a group of preteens congregate on a couch, watching a movie.

In a classroom-style setting, others are doing arts and crafts.

In the large gym where dozens of kids are playing basketball, the laughter creates a frenetic cacophony.

A computer lab with two rows of tables lined with newer Mac computers is considerably quieter. This is where young members can surf the web, produce a movie or create a video game.

First, though, everyone must do their homework.

In another classroom, teen volunteers walk along the desks filled with concentrating youngsters, offering on-the-spot tutoring assistance for those in need.

Open 2-7 p.m. during the week, and extended hours during the summer, the Boys & Girls Club is a home away from home for many.

Alexis Grande, 13, who attends Placerita Junior High School, kicked back in the Teen Positivity Lounge and watched as fellow teens played a game on XBox.

“It gets me out of the house. If I go home, all I do is sit in front of the TV,” said Alexis Grande, 13, who attends Placerita Junior High. “It’s a place just to get away, to hang out with kids your own age and do fun things.”

All for just $36 per year.

The SCV gets a club
Headquartered in Atlanta, Ga., the Boys & Girls Clubs of America had its beginnings in 1860 with several women in Hartford, Conn., where the first club was organized to give a positive alternative to boys roaming the streets.

In 1906, several of the boys clubs decided to affiliate and Boys Club Federation of America became Boys Clubs of America.

To recognize that girls were also part of its cause, the name of the organization was officially changed to Boys & Girls Club of America in 1990.

The  Santa Clarita Valley opened its first Boys & Girls Club, located in Newhall, in 1968. Today, the Santa Clarita Valley Boys & Girls Club operates three clubhouses: Newhall, Val Verde and Sierra Vista in Canyon Country.

Chief professional officer Jim Ventress has been a part of the Santa Clarita Valley Boys & Girls Club for more than 25 years and watched membership grow to approximately 2,700 children in the three clubs.

“Our goal is to provide a well-rounded afterschool program that allows some of our parents to not worry about their kids.

At the club, they get a healthy snack and a fun, safe spot to be while their parents are working,” Ventress said. “I think it’s really important to the community, especially with middle-school kids where day care doesn’t work anymore. We don’t want them in a latch-key situation, either.”

Funding for the Santa Clarita Valley Boys & Girls Club is provided through various foundations, such as the United Way, Pacific Foundation, Pacific Youth Foundation and Boston Scientific, which all contribute to various programs.
Additional funds are acquired through special events within the community, such as an annual silent auction held each summer and the upcoming Festival of the Trees Nov. 18-21.

“Over the years, we have had tremendous community support. We have a strong board that makes these special events happen and deliver the message of the club,” Ventress said.

The message
Nationally, the Boys & Girls Club message is delivered by this year’s spokesman for the organization, Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington, who attended a club while growing up in Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

“Denzel certainly attributes the club to keeping him on the right path for the eight years he was there,” Ventress said.
“If he wasn’t at the club for a few days, a staff member named Billy would go out and find where he was at. There’s some real caring going on.”

Lori O’Brien, an office manager and the divorced mother of Jeremy, 15, and Justin, 16, who attend William S. Hart High School in Newhall, would certainly agree.

She’s had her sons enrolled in the Newhall Club since 2005, after day care became cost prohibitive.

“The staff there has been amazing, just really fantastic role models for my kids,” O’Brien said.
Initially reluctant to participate, Jeremy and Justin quickly became immersed in club activities.

“The opportunities they’ve had over the last five years, I never would have been able to provide,” O’Brien said. “They have gone deep-sea fishing, camping, ice skating, bowling, played tennis, all with the club. I could go on and on.”

While older brother Justin has been busy recently with a regional occupation fire program at school, Jeremy has been active with volunteering as a soccer referee for the club and helping out at community events, such as the Haunted Jailhouse and a rummage sale for Single Mothers Outreach.

O’Brien said her sons’ experience with teamwork, cooperation and cultural awareness at the club will be instrumental in paving a solid foundation for their ascent into adulthood.

“It’s really helped them mature and blossom this past year,” she said. “A lot of people complain about their teens. There are so many influences in the world for them to make good or bad decisions. The Boys & Girls Club has had a huge positive influence on their decisions and ability to do good things in the future.”

Research bears this out. A Harris Interactive study from 2006-07 asked Boys & Girls Club alumni several questions.

The study found that 91 percent of alumni are satisfied with their adult life, and 67 percent said being a member of the club gave them goals and aspirations while a staggering 57 percent stated the club “saved their life.”

Different strokes
Instructor Willie Gussin is preparing for art class, pouring glue into small containers for each budding artist. Today’s project is to draw with pastel chalk and oils atop the glue, which have been drizzled onto colored construction paper.

With many schools cutting down on arts programs, such projects at the Boys & Girls Club can be particularly beneficial, Gussin said.

“Art benefits everyone as a means of expression, it’s a positive release of emotions,” he said. “It leads to being a more creative person in everyday life, which is good.”

Cynthia Samano, 11, who attends Wiley Canyon Elementary School in Newhall, was drawing with fervor. She recently took second place in an art contest at her school.

“I like that Willie gives us an idea and we can do what we want with it,” she said with a smile.

For Ryan Espinoza, the gym is where it’s at.

That’s where dodge ball, his favorite game, takes place.

“It’s fun, you get to throw and catch,” Espinoza said. “If I wasn’t here, I’d probably be at home watching TV. This is better.”

Athletic director Cecil Hammock said dodge ball was the most popular game at the club, which also offers kickball, hockey, basketball and more. Even those that don’t come naturally to sports or athletic activity usually find their way in the gym, he said.

“A lot of kids, seeing athletes outside the gum, think they can’t do much, but we give them encouragement. They lose nothing by trying,” Hammock said. “The biggest thing is the camaraderie and interaction they get with other kids.”

They also get exercise, which is crucial in beating the increasing obesity epidemic among children. Not to mention self-esteem, as Bryan Lake, director of administration, pointed out.

“These kids feel healthy and good about themselves. They go home believing they can ace anything,” Lake said.

For more information on the Santa Clarita Valley Boys & Girls Club, visit www.scvbgc.org or call (661) 254-2582.

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