Boys & Girls Club benefits from County road closure for soccer


Supervisors close one block of Azalea Ave. in Ivanhoe to make way for full-sized soccer field at the Boys & Girls Club

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

IVANHOE – Living in unincorporated communities can be challenging for kids as there is often little opportunity for recreation. That hasn’t stopped the children of Ivanhoe from playing soccer at the Boys & Girls Club there, despite part of  the pitch being a dirt field filled with goatheads and a blacktop that can cause some bruising when two players trip over themselves going for the ball.

“The kids there love to play soccer and it would be great to give them some grass to play on,” said Elva Solano, site director for the Ivanhoe club.

The only thing standing in the way of creating a full-sized soccer field for Ivanhoe children to play on is a road, running between two properties owned by the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sequoias, which encompasses all of Tulare County. But the determination of local club, the support of residents and the understanding for the needs of children in rural communities overcame that hurdle last week when the Board of Supervisors approved the closure of the road.

On Dec. 12, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to close one block of Azalea Avenue between Road 159 and Manzanita Road which bisects the property owned by the Boys & Girls Club. Dustin Stewart, who sits on the board of directors of the Boys & Girls Club, said the street closure will add 8,000 square feet to the 10,000 square feet of space the club already owns on either side of the road. Stewart said the club has “knocked and talked” to everyone in town and has been able to find enough donations from kids and their families as well as in-kind services from local contractors and equipment operators to secure enough funding to develop the lot.

“I see these kids giving back and they don’t have much to give but they give it all to help their community,” Stewart said. “Everyone is chipping in and doing something for free.”

A petition to close the street was signed by 70 people who work or live in Ivanhoe. One of those residents, Kimberly Dawson, said the community needs more green space for children to play.

“It’s amazing the amount of support this project has received,” Stewart said. “We need to develop this to help kids out, so they can have a safer place to play.”

Supervisor Steve Worthley, who represents Ivanhoe in District 4, said he is not normally in favor of closing active roads but saw the BGC’s proposal as a way to create a central place for children to play in the unincorporated community.

“I appreciate the Boys & Girls Club looking at this as something above and beyond their own mission,” Worthley said. “It’s an opportunity to provide a central gathering place for kids and family. This is a disadvantaged community that needs help from county government, organizations like the Boys & Girls Club and its citizens.”

Supervisor Amy Shuklian agreed, saying that this was a “bigger picture” than just closing a street for a soccer field. “I think going ahead will help to instill a sense of pride in the community and self esteem in the kids.”

Supervisor Kuyler Crocker said this project is just another example of the partnership between the County and the Boys & Girls Club, which now serves 3,000 youth in seven communities including Crocker’s hometown of Strathmore. Crocker said the Boys & Girls Club has played a key role in the County’s gang prevention program Step Up and its Summer Night Lights program, where most clubs stay open late to give kids a safe place to hang out on a Friday night.

Galen Quenzar, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sequoias, said the soccer field will be enjoyed by 50 to 60 kids daily as club membership is about 160 for the year. The club was actually started as the Ivanhoe Youth Center by Bob Phelps in the Presbyterian Church more than 20 years ago.

“The Boys & Girls Club gets a lot of buy-in for the love and passion for children,” said Chairman Pete Vander Poel. “You find what the kids are interested in. This is a great model to replicate in other unincorporated communities. I know we are willing to [do these types of projects] because we see the impact it has on the community.”

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