By Maria Luisa Torres
Special to the San Fernando Valley Sun
Assemblymember Luz Rivas has secured $5 million in much-needed funding for the Boys and Girls Club of San Fernando Valley.
Rivas made the announcement on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at the Boys and Girls Club of SFV in Pacoima to much applause.
“This crucial funding for the Boys and Girls Club of San Fernando Valley will be a direct investment in the safety and well-being of our youth,” said Rivas, who noted her understanding of the need and the importance of the club, as she grew up in the Northeast San Fernando Valley in the communities of Pacoima, San Fernando and Arleta.
“I was proud to secure $5 million in the state budget for the Boys and Girls Club of the San Fernando Valley because they’ve been at the forefront of working with young people from disadvantaged economic, social and family circumstances.”
Rivas acknowledged the impact the pandemic had on the local community with students falling behind in their education during many months of learning from home.
Nicole Chase, president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Club SFV, understands those concerns and said the funding will be a “true game-changer” in providing support across the board.
Chase said with the funds, they plan on addressing a variety of needs that will include hiring additional staff, facility maintenance, safety upgrades, expanding the meal program and updating the science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) curriculum. Additionally, they will purchase more tablets, laptops and other hardware to assist in closing the digital divide while keeping software up-to-date and having reliable internet connectivity.
Chase said she expects the $5 million in funding to at least get the ball rolling in all areas slated for improvements or expansions at the club, which serves youths between the ages of 6 through their senior year in high school (up to 18 years of age).
The Club Is A Lifeline
“We’re very thankful to Assemblywoman Rivas for this gift, but it’s so much grander than that,” said Chase.
“She is phenomenal [and] inspirational. Not only is she from [our community], she went to M.I.T., started a STEM organization [DIY Girls] and continues to instill that in the organizations in the communities she serves.
“It’s so exciting to have someone who sees what you are trying to do and puts this tremendous amount of support behind you. We are beyond grateful.”
The gratitude runs deep, not only for Chase but also for her fellow staff, the kids who frequent the club and their families.
The Boys and Girls Club is a lifeline for many, Chase explains, noting that the facility is not only a place for kids to make friends and socialize, but it also provides a literal safe haven during the crucial after-school hours when many parents are working and unable to be physically present to watch their kids or help them with their homework. The club can be a bridge.
For 11-year-old Luna Reynoso, the Boys and Girls Club feels almost like a second home. An only child, it’s a place where she looks forward to spending time with friends in the gym, participating in STEAM programs, playing e-sports and working on projects in the art room – where she can learn, have fun and never feel alone.
“To be honest with you, before I started coming to the club [three years ago] I would just stay at home and not do anything fun or productive benefiting me, like learning new things.”
Reynoso said the pandemic took its toll and Zoom activities can be fun, but it was “sad not being able to hang out with my friends.” She said she wants to be a lawyer or a professional athlete someday.
Funding Will Support Field Trips
Chase’s wish list for the new funding also includes taking the kids on regular field trips. She believes that any outing, from museums to amusement parks, can provide learning opportunities – even going to Disneyland.
“Yes, they can go and enjoy the rides,” she said. But they can also be introduced to people who work behind the scenes – chefs, designers, engineers, etc., “to help broaden their horizons on all levels” and potentially spark career aspirations. Also, the local entertainment industry can provide an array of field trip options for youths who might be interested in writing, directing, producing, cinematography, sound editing and more.
For sixth grader Kayla Smith, who has been a regular at the Boys and Girls Club since she was in first grade, just six years old, exploring a career in the entertainment industry would be ideal.
The artistically inclined 11-year-old aspires to be a professional dancer, actress and/or fashion designer. When she’s at the Boys & Girls Club SFV, she said she likes learning new things with her friends.
“I like getting to spend time with my friends, doing in-person activities,” said Smith.
Plans Ahead to Hire Senior and Junior Staff
According to Chase, attempting to bring their many ambitious goals to fruition will require having sufficient knowledgeable staff members who have the “ability to build out dynamic programs.” She said they hope to add a couple of full-time staff members, some part-time staff and high school students as junior staff members.
In addition to increasing staff, they hope to adjust some salaries to more competitive levels, “because when you’re competitive, that means you [can] attract top individuals with top qualifications,” said Chase. They also plan to provide training opportunities for staff, to help increase morale and infuse “new energy” into the entire team.
“Being able to have a staff that’s knowledgeable, so that we can further expand our young people’s horizons, is crucial,” she said.
Tutoring, Homework Afterschool Program
One of those steps is the club’s mentoring, tutoring and homework assistance program because something as seemingly basic as improved reading skills can “help close the achievement gap,” she noted, adding that being a good reader can help youths better understand word problems, improve their writing skills or even facilitate filling out job applications
Before the pandemic, the Pacoima facility would average 70 to 80 kids per day in the afterschool program, and up to 100 per day during winter and summer breaks.
When the pandemic hit, they initially closed their doors for about two months, during which they assessed the situation, and developed and launched a virtual program. Initially, the number of kids dropped significantly – between 20 to 25 participated daily virtually. As the pandemic progressed, they transitioned into a hybrid model with restricted numbers and required safety protocols. They have gradually returned to their traditional format and the number of youths has been steadily climbing.
During this past summer, the club served 70 to 80 kids daily, and Chase said she expects them to reach at least 70 kids per day in the afterschool program sometime in October.
According to Chase, the funds will help make up for the enormous deficit created by the pandemic. During this time, individual donations diminished by 60 percent.
“The pandemic definitely hit us hard,” she said. In addition to struggling with individual donations, the club was unable to host its regular in-person fundraising events, including the annual Golden Hands Gala, which went on hiatus before the pandemic, when her father LeRoy Chase passed away following a long illness in November of 2018.
The late LeRoy Chase was at the helm of the Boys and Girls Club of San Fernando Valley for more than 50 years. Between 1968 – when it was called the Boys and Girls Club of Pacoima – and 2018, he is credited with keeping the doors open despite adverse financial challenges they faced over his five decades of service. Each club functions autonomously and must conduct independent fundraising efforts, explained Chase.
Chase and her sisters grew up going to their dad’s Boys and Girls Club after school. Several years later, her father encouraged her to alter her career path and join him.
“You need to come to the club and help me,” recalled Chase, noting that it was more than a mere suggestion. She joined the team in 2008 and has been there ever since.
“Over the years I spent working with him, he was the most challenging and the most difficult boss I have ever had,” she said with a chuckle. “But I learned so much from him. I never imagined the weight of what he was carrying until I had to step into his shoes, and they were massive.”
Following in her father’s footsteps, Chase said they have continued to work hard to keep the club open – during the pandemic and beyond – and ensure they have the necessary resources to keep supporting local youths. The $5 million will help keep them on track.
“We’ve never turned a child away and we never want to turn a child away,” said Chase, adding that regardless of each child’s socio-economic status, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc., “if you’re a kid, we want you to come on in.
“With this level of support … the goal is to help transition [our youths] from a mentality of just surviving to that of thriving – that’s huge,” she said. “It’s a big vision, but we’re taking it one step at a time.”
The Boys and Girls Club of San Fernando Valley is open after school Monday through Friday from 2:00 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. The club is located at 11251 Glenoaks Blvd., Pacoima. For more information: call (818) 895-5261 or visit www.bgcsfv.org.