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Still fabulous at 40

Posted: September 6, 2008 9:07 p.m.
Updated: November 8, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Jim Ventress, chief professional officer of the Boys and Girls Club in Newhall has been involved in this particular club for 22 years.

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Jim Ventress, chief professional officer of the Santa Clarita Valley Boys and Girls Club, has been at the helm for more than half of the Club's existence.

The club, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary on Friday with a celebration dinner, was founded in 1968.

Ventress, came to the SCV in 1985 from the Silesian Boys Club of Los Angeles.

"I was excited to come to the SCV and work to expand the program to include a large facility that would have a gym and have more programs for junior high school and high school kids," said Ventress.

Ventress said he is proud of the quality programs that the club provides to children.

"We don't just hand a kid a ball and say go play," he said. "We have tournaments, we have leagues, we provide quality."

Ivan Price, executive director of the SCV Boys and Girls Club Foundation, said the celebration dinner will be an evening to reminisce, as well as celebrate the club's accomplishments.

"We're going to have an hour of congratulatory thoughts, recognition and memories," Price said. "We want the old timers who started this club to share their memories and stories."

Price said Ventress will also speak about his 23 years at the club.

"Jim loves to talk about the alumni," Price said.

And the alumni like to talk about Ventress.

"Jim never turned his back on me no matter what I did," said club alumnus Helen Hicks of Gardena. The former SCV resident said she was headed down the wrong path before she found the SCV Boys & Girls Club, and Ventress.

"It was a safe haven for me. It gave me a place to go where there was no good place for me to go. It kept me off the streets and out of trouble," Hicks said. "It is hard to say in words what the club has done for me and other people."

Ventress remembers Hicks as a "hard case."

"Helen was getting into trouble, gangs, drugs, she was pretty tough. She played softball and was a catcher, everyone said she could probably whip all the boys," Ventress said.

Hicks said her years at the club (1984-1989) were an important part of her life.

"Even though our club was a little shack at Newhall Elementary School, we still had a good time," she said.

When Hicks heard about the capital campaign to build the Sierra Vista facility she stepped up and donated $5,000.

"I made the donation because I never forgot what the Boys and Girls Club did for me and how important Jim was to me," Hicks said.

Ventress even gave Hicks away at her 1997 wedding.

"He was like a second dad to me, he always had an open door policy," Hicks said. "It meant a lot to me that Jim gave me away."

The road for Hicks has not all been easy. After Hicks pulled herself out of what she describes as a "downhill" slide she had spiritual awakening and she found her gift for working with adults.

Hicks is now the assistant activities coordinator and the ministries assistant at the Salvation Army's Bell shelter, yet the foundation she built at the SCV Boys and Girls Club is never far from her mind.

"There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of Jim and the Boys and Girls Club," she said.

Wayne Mahaffey, son of Boys and Girls Club governing board president John Mahaffey, also has fond memories of the club.

"I was a part of the club since I was 8. It gave me a place to hang out and stay out of trouble," he said.

Ventress remembers Wayne Mahaffey, Santa Clarita, as the club's 10-year-old pool and ping pong champion.

"He's now 6 foot 6 inches and a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy, but I remember when he was this little 10-year-old," Ventress said.

Mahaffey said he's surprised that Ventress remembers his youthful accomplishments.

"Here I am, 31 years old and every time I see him he talks about when I was the pool and ping pong champ," Mahaffey said. "He always drags that photo out and I try to get it away from him, but he always finds another copy."

As with all of the club's alumni Mahaffey said Ventress is a large part of why the club is successful.

"Jim was always someone you could talk to, who would give a helping hand if need be," he said. "His integrity, his honesty and his truthfulness to you on any situation you could talk to him about is fantastic."

Ventress said the club provides a place for children ages 7-18.

"However, our focus is 5th grade to 10th," Ventress said. "We're not a day care facility. We're here help young people become leaders, make good decisions, and become good citizens who will contribute to society and not take away from it. A lot of the things that we do are to give attention and recognition."

As Ventress walks through the club it is easy to see how he connects with the children. He calls children by name and asks them questions and chides or encourages, as necessary.

Ventress urges middle school parents to become prepared about the reality of raising teenagers.

"At 6th grade you're at the top of the roller coaster ride," he said. "Many parents don't understand they are on easy street when their children are in elementary school. When children enter junior high school, that's when you need to be a parent. Parents need to find support for when their children become teenagers."

Among the advice Ventress gives parents of teens is to enlist the aid of teachers, coaches and other parents.

"You need to have someone you can talk to about your teen," he said. "You need to have someone you can bounce off ideas and situations. Hopefully, someone who has already raised a teen and knows what works and what doesn't."

Ventress also urges parents to attend Santa Clarita's "Teen Scene Unplugged," an annual presentation on teens issues.

"They tell it like it is," Ventress said.

This year's Teen Scene Unplugged will be held 6 to 9 p.m. Sept 24 at the Hyatt Valencia and focus on understanding the teen brain.

Ventress, who has headed the SCV club for more than half its existence said the biggest change he's seen in his years at the club is the introduction of "harder" drugs into the community.

"The drugs that are out there now, this meth and such, it grabs the kids," he said. "I tell kids, you can't even experiment anymore, you can't afford it. The drugs now are more dangerous than ever, it's like playing with fire."

Ventress said the bombardment of the media and the availability of technology are other issues that have increased with the years.

"It's hard for kids to find balance," he said. "If you let them, some kids would never walk away from the computer. We encourage kids to get up from the computer and do something physical. We also encourage kids to do their homework when they get here so it is done."

Price said Friday's celebration dinner will also be an opportunity to recognize everyone who has contributed time, support and money to the club over the past 40 years.

"We're compiling a keepsake souvenir program that will include a history of the club as well old photos and lists of all the board presidents; all the boy and girl of the year recipients, volunteer of the year awards and other lists," Price said.

Price said the club has always attracted the support of the community.

"We've always been blessed with quality leadership and people who have stepped up to the plate month after month and year after year for the Boys and Girls Club," he said.

The Boys and Girls Club Foundation, which was formed in 2002, has raised more than $4 million for the club which has an operating budget of more than $1 million. Nearly half of the clubs budget comes from special events staged by the Foundation.

"We expect that by the end of 2009 we'll have earned another $1 million," Price said. "The exciting part is that it's for the kids, not to keep the lights burning or the salaries paid, it's what we do for the kids."
Price said the club also raises a significant amount of its budget from the United Way and private foundations.

However, Price said community support is crucial.

"It's remarkable how long we've done it, people step up for the Boys and Girls Club, since its founding," he said.

The 40th anniversary host committee includes: Ed Bolden, Gary Condie, Tom Dierckman, Del Holland, John and Janice Hoskinson, Geri Jacobs, Frank and Charlotte Kleeman, Tom Lee, John Mahaffey, Tony Newhall, Anna Ott, Linda Pedersen, George Pederson, Joyce and Jay Rogers, Clyde Smyth, Jim Ventress and

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