By Reggie Ellis
visalia – Children may be the future, but the future is only as bright as their childhood. Kids who grow up in broken homes, often repeat the behavior. Kids who join gangs at a young age become criminal ringleaders as adults. And kids who don’t have any structure or supervision never learn valuable lessons of accountability, independence and determination.
The key to keeping kids on the right path is what they do between 2-6 p.m. on weekday afternoons. Studies show that this is the most dangerous time of day before children are often unsupervised and more likely to buckle under peer pressure. That’s what makes Boys & Girls Clubs so important as a safe place for children and a support system of caring adults whose sole mission is to help children ages 6-12 build a great future, not only for them, but for the rest of society as well.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sequoias, which oversees all 10 club sites in Tulare County, held its annual “Great Futures” event on May 26 at the Visalia Boys & Girls Club.
“As I watched the kids come in for the event, each one got a high five, fist bump, or a dance,” Quenzer said. “Every kid is being greeted when they come to a club and being made to feel special. That is one of the most important things you can offer a child – your attention and time.”
The people giving those greetings are often the unit directors, the full-time staff member overseeing a club site. Quenzer recognized the unit directors in attendance at the event.
Christian Cervantes, the unit director for Farmersville, said he has been with the kids in that community for seven years. His passion is bringing kids of every background together through sports. Elva Solano has been the unit director in Ivanhoe for three years and doing arts and crafts projects. Laurena Gilbert spent five years as unit director of the Visalia club and currently holds the position at the Exeter club following a six-year hiatus in between. Gilbert said she loved planning activities and field trips that enriched the students lives.
“The real heroes are the people every day with these kids,” Quenzer said. “They are teaching, guiding, listening and offering conflict resolution every single day.”
Another big part of what makes BGCs so successful are the volunteers. Buddy Jones has been volunteering at the Visalia Club for 14 years, including 13 on its community board of directors. His latest project is creating a drum circle of students of all ages at the club, who performed at the event.
“I don’t necessarily want to make them a better drummer, but instead a better listener,” Jones said.
Another Board member, Dr. Sidney Frank, talked about his experience attending a “boys club” while growing up in Boston. He said in 2004, he and Quenzer attended a national conference for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America across the street from his old club.
“There weren’t a lot of safe places for kids to be afterschool, but I could always go there and do things boys liked to do,” Frank said.
The final ingredient to great futures are former members, who can volunteer at an age where they can still relate to those attending the club. Ashleigh Ziebert, 15, is a junior staff member at the Visalia Club told her story to those in attendance. She has been volunteering at the club since she was 12 years old and is now a sophomore at Mt. Whitney High School and an intern at Kaweah Delta Medical Center.
“If I wasn’t volunteering at the club, I’d probably be home on my phone or hanging out with the wrong crowd,” Ziebert said. “I enjoy helping out and I get a lot of support and encouragement from the staff here.”
After hearing about Ziebert’s plan to study medicine after high school, Dr. Frank then presented her with a few gifts to help her on her way, including a lab coat, stethoscope to look the part, a model of a plastic heart for her determination and a stress ball in the shape of a heart “to get through the tough times in college.”
The last speaker of the night was Tim Zavala, a licensed clinical social worker with Tulare Youth Service Bureau. Like Dr. Frank, Zavala also grew up attending a “boys club” in La Habra, Calif. “I grew up in the real Orange County, not the ‘OC’ that you know from TV,” he said. One of six siblings, Zavala said the club was in walking distance of his house and had all the things a boy could want, including a gymnasium, a place to do homework, a woodshop and the opportunity to go to summer camp. “I had never been in the woods before and a raccoon stole all the potato chips from me and my cabin mates,” Zavala said.
One of the most memorable moments of his childhood was when his brother won Boy of the Year for the La Habra club. His entire family got to go to a ceremony where his brother sat next to one of their idols, Steve Yeager, catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“That moment taught me that if I worked hard enough, I could achieve something amazing,” he said. “A lot of kids have a lot of problems and one of the common denominators is that most of them are adolescent males who didn’t have dads in their life or a safe place to be when their mom wasn’t home. That’s what the Boys & Girls Club did for my brothers and my family, it gave us a safe place to be kids.”