LOS ANGELES-The Boys & Girls Club of America (BGCA) is a lot more than a drop off spot for parents wanting to get rid of their kids for the day. There’s more to the children-friendly sanctuary than being a hang out place for wayward young people. The BGCA has been a safe haven from gangs or the illicit activities of the streets for some youths. It has been a building block for self-confidence and personal growth for many.
Others have learned to become leaders of their communities, developed into entrepreneurs and find the right program that help them to find their way to a college education. Five-time heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield said his life would have been altered differently if it had not been for the Boys & Girls Club.
“I started going to the Boys & Girls Club when I was six years old,” Holyfield said. “Without the Boys & Girls Club, there’s no telling what my life would have turned out to be. As people know, I became the heavyweight champion of the world. I made the Olympic team by going through the Boys & Girls Club. The Boys & Girls Club taught me so many things that I probably would not have gotten coming from the background that I came from, living in the projects-but being able to escape through the Boys & Girls Club.”
WNBA and Los Angeles Sparks star DeLisha Milton-Jones wished she had something like the Boys & Girls Club around when she was growing up to help her deal with finding her identity as a young woman. Olympian Carmelita Jeter believes that the Boys & Girls Club is the only positive option many young people have in their lives.
“It is something that I wish I had when I was growing up, because I know when I was a kid I was lost in certain areas dealing with my personal identity and things like that,” Milton-Jones said. “But when you have an opportunity to commune with people with people your own age, you can almost identify with yourself sooner in life. I think that it is a tremendous opportunity for the kids today, and I am a huge fan of what they are doing.”
Jason Richardson, who captured the silver medal in the 110-meter high hurdles at the 2012 Olympics, can relate to the importance of a Boys & Girls Club. Though he did not participate in a Boys & Girls Club program, Richardson found a safe haven in community programs similar to what the Boys & Girls Club offer.
It changed his life. Welcome to the Boys & Girls Club of America. Hope is what the Boys & Girls Club of America is all about. Without the services the Boys & Girls Club offer, thousands, even millions of young people would see their lives and their futures change dramatically. A recent gala fundraiser illustrated the importance of the BGCA in the lives of young people as several thousand people filled a ballroom at the JW Marriott in downtown Los Angeles to honor business and community leaders.
The BGCA “Great Futures” gala paid homage to Oracle Corporation Chairman Jeffrey O. Henley and Taco Bell Corporation President and CEO Greg Creed for their longstanding support and philanthropic efforts of the BGCA. As many as 18 2012 Olympians attended the event. The real beneficiaries of this great event, however, are the numerous children and youths who are active in BGCA facilities.
There are 3,985 chartered Boys & Girls Clubs around the country, some directly in schools, others set up in public housing and on military bases. Then there are the Boys & Girls Clubs that are embedded in both suburban and urban communities, providing positive re-enforcement. The BGCA “Great Futures” gala raised $1.2 million, no doubt laying down the pipeline to what is needed to keep all of these clubs functioning.
Denzell Perry, the BGCA Pacific Region Youth of the Year (Watts/Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club) is a prime example why the organization is as great as it is. Perry had a speech impediment that affected his ability to speak for the first five years of his life. But he didn’t let that obstacle stop him from where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do in life.
Perry and his three siblings struggled to make it with the aid of a hard-working single mother. He lost a brother to the streets at an early age. But instead of spiraling into a world of trouble and abyss, Perry was determined to make it out the doldrums of drugs, poverty and neglect in a community rife with opportunities to swallow up young lives.
The Watts/Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club came into his life as a young boy. It saved his life.
Since becoming a member of the Watts/Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club at six, Perry has used the ugly things that were in his life to something beautiful. Taking advantage of programs like SMART Moves, Career Launch, Poetry Club and Club Builders, among others, Perry has grown from an uninformed youth to a young man who is now encouraging and empowering others.
Today, Perry is president of the Keystone Club, and the assistant of the clubs’ College Access Preparation Program, displaying the leadership that beckons greatness. A graduate of Compton’s Dominguez High School, Perry is now a freshman student at the University of California, Irvine, Perry is majoring in Criminology, Law, and Society.
It is stories like Perry’s moving testimony that make Jeter, who captured gold, silver, and bronze medals in track and field at the 2012 Olympics, want to do more and reach back to mentor and talk with young people.
“Being here at the Boys & Girls Club, is something definitely I want to be more part of,” Jeter said. “Some children-that’s all they have-are the Boys & Girls Club programs. Some children are trying to stay out of the streets or trying to stay motivated or trying to push themselves. A lot of children just need mentors, just need someone to give them some advice, someone to pay attention, someone to care. I believe that is what the Boys & Girls Club does.”