When Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-29th Dist.) was growing up in Pacoima, one of his early jobs was working at night at the Boys & Girls Club of San Fernando Valley, located in the community.
“I joked with him, ‘you worked for my father before I did,’” said Nicole Chase, club president and CEO, and daughter of club founder and youth advocate LeRoy Chase. “‘It was rough, I know.’”
Now a United States Congressmember, Cárdenas is in a position to help out the club at a time when, like other nonprofit organizations, it has been struggling to operate because of the pandemic.
Back in March, Cárdenas secured more than $12 million in federal funds for the San Fernando Valley Community Initiatives in an appropriation funding package. In April he submitted 10 Community Project Funding requests to the appropriations committee that sought various levels of funding, including housing for the homeless, mental health services and youth programs.
One of those approved requests was for the Boys & Girls Club. On May 6, Cárdenas presented administrators and youths there a check for $440,000 to help finance after school programs at the club.
To say the grant was a timely donation for the club would definitely qualify as an understatement.
“It will help us keep our doors open,” Chase said. “As a nonprofit, it’s just a struggle (because of the disruptions and closures caused by the pandemic). We haven’t been able to have the fundraisers that we normally would have had in the past. We had to streamline, so we don’t have the staffing capacity we had in the past.
“We’re excited about the possibilities because of this funding. Mind you, we’re still doing [their own] fundraising because our budget is definitely larger than that. But this is huge,” she said.
Homework Assistance and an E-Sports Room
Chase said the funds would be initially applied to after school programs for youths aged 6-17 that include homework assistance, mental health support and mentoring.
“I’ll start with something we have called ‘Triple Play,’” the CEO said. “It is referred to as mind, body and soul; it kind of supports the whole child.
“We’re trying to create a more robust mentoring program so that we can help young people as they transition back into whatever this ‘new normal’ is going to look like, as well as help — for lack of a better way of saying it — the mental health of young folks who suffered because of the lack of social interaction, as well as lack of other support [during the pandemic].”
She is also excited about a new “Teen Room” that will open May 19.
“We have a brand new ‘E-Sports’ room sponsored by the Lakers,” Chase said. “Yes, it has video games and all that, but we also want to apply it to life lessons. One of our big emphasis with our teens is workforce development. We have a program called ‘Co-lab,’ where we align our young people with their passion professions and those industry professionals. It’s awesome.”
Even with the new offerings and the infusion of capital from the grant, the club itself is also trying to determine its “new normal,” Chase said. Its weekday hours are from 2 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.; there are no “special programs” currently being offered on weekends. The club staff and board of directors are still wrestling, at times, with what constitutes proper indoor and outdoor access.
And questions about the ever evolving status of COVID-19 and its variants still hover.
“We have a little ways to go because, in addition to just having young people return to the club for activities and our after school programs, parents have to be comfortable as well,” Chase said. “You have a number of folks who are still not vaccinated. And as much as we try to have information available on the importance of being vaccinated, that’s not our expertise.”
She said the club staff and other working or volunteer adults there “have to be vaccinated.” The policy is not the same for the kids at this time.
“We could not say that with young people because until — I don’t know the timeline — a few months ago, six-year-olds weren’t eligible,” Chase said. “And that’s a struggle for parents because the younger the child, there are concerns about the medications, vaccines, all kinds of things. We are strongly encouraging our parents to get their young people vaccinated. We’re trying to stay in alignment with LAUSD, and the CDC.”
Chase and her family will join Pacoima and other Valley residents this Saturday, May 14, at a 2 p.m.ceremony honoring her father for his contributions to the club, and his work with youth and the community. The name “LeRoy Chase” will adorn the intersection of Glenoaks Boulevard and Pierce Street in Pacoima, next to Maclay Middle School. A reception at the club will follow.
LeRoy Chase died in 2018 at age 73 following a lengthy illness.
“We are having a ‘square recognition ceremony’ in my father’s name,” Chase said. “It’s a unique intersection; many of our youth over the years have come from the Pierce Park Apartments, Maclay Middle School, Lakeview Terrace, Hansen Dam, and Pacoima. So that intersection is actually key, in that we have a huge relationship with that community. It’s kind of keeping his spirit and legacy alive.”