MY TURN - Falling ceiling tiles, motley flooring and a tired gym forced a San Pedro Boys and Girls Club to undergo a $1 million modernization, but enabled the agency to carve a space out for a much ignored student population at the 46-year-old facility.
From now on, middle school students – in a rare opportunity -- will have their own computer/homework room, a game center and an eatery to make those members more at home, said Mike Lansing, the executive director at the Boys and Girls Club.
No other Boys and Girls clubs in Los Angeles, perhaps nationwide, have specifically set aside space for this age of children.
Prior to the Cabrillo Avenue club’s rehabilitation, areas were set aside for both elementary schools and teenagers. The middle school children were shunted between those two sections and deserve their own space, Lansing said.
“Middle school students have a lot of issues and it’s an important time of their life,” said Lansing, who was a teacher and coach for Holy Trinity Middle School. “Our teen growth was great, but we weren’t getting any middle-school students. They were stuck between two worlds, the teen center and the elementary side.”
The face lift also included revitalizing the club’s gym and its recording studio due to two celebrities’ donations and a teen foundation.
While the modernization plan has yet to be completed, middle school students were applauding their new facilities at the club and excitedly waited for 25 new computers to be installed – just for them.
Engrossed in her studies, Stephanie Bottomley who attends Dodson Middle School, said she and her friends will be more comfortable now at the club.
“I think it’s good because there’s a lot of difference between a sixth grader and a 12th grader,” the 11-year-old said. “Although there’s not bullying, you just feel inhibited. You don’t really speak out. Me and my friends would just stay in a corner. It makes me feel good that there are levels for everybody.”
Deana Bivian, 16, and Eduardo, 14, who both attend San Pedro High said they were delighted for their younger brother, Issac, 11.
“It’s good for them to be separated,” Deana Bivian said while she was tutoring her brother. “It will help the middle students move on easier to high school. They won’t be scared to ask their questions. They are in their own age group.”
Club officials -- faced with the need to modernize the heavily used facility that attracts up to 450 members a day -- kept to a tight budget for the project and determined ways to use its existing space more adequately. For example, a modular was planted behind the club for a study area for elementary students – which opened up a larger area for the middle school students.
Instead of going to its major supporters – who normally pay for a plethora of programming, Lansing said, he went to his board members and small foundations that would help – which included two celebrities.
Miami Heat basketball star LeBron James’s foundation donated $121,000 to upgrade the gym with new bleachers, provide padding along the walls to protect children from injuries, restriped the floors and hard-capped its walls and ceiling.
James also visited the club – but only to see the children. He did not want any media attention, said Tony Tripp, the club’s music director.
“LeBron was really good for the kids,” Tripp said. “He didn’t want to speak to the adults. That’s why we had to keep his visit quiet.”
The Mark Wahlberg Foundation and the Taco Bell teen foundation also provided $50,000 to upgrade the club’s five-year-old recording studio.
The studio received a new sound-isolation booth and an enhanced video room with state-of-the-art equipment. Actor Wahlberg also visited the club to tell children that he believes if there were more creative avenues for them, they would stay out of trouble.
Wahlberg was a street tough in his home state of Massachusetts and was arrested for his crimes. The actor said he’s building such programs to help children to not go down the dangerous avenues he did.
In addition to the upgrades in the gym and recording studio, the facility overhauled all its flooring, lighting, ceilings and acoustics, Lansing said. It will take another $100,000 to modernize the outside, which the club is in the process of seeking.
The executive director said he was pleased to provide each age grouping, elementary, middle school and high school students, their own places to eat, study and play.
“It was the linchpin for us,” he said of the project.
(Diana Chapman is a CityWatch contributor and has been a writer/journalist for nearly thirty years. She has written for magazines, newspapers and the best-seller series, Chicken Soup for the Soul. You can reach her at: [email protected] or her website: theunderdogforkids.blogspot.com) –cw
Tags: middle school, San Pedro, Boys and Girls Club, LaBron James, Mark Wahlberg, Dodson Middle School
Vol 9 Issue 78
Pub: Sept 30, 2011