Boys & Girls Club Dr. Suess

Boys & Girls Club CEO Don Rodriguez, front left, joins with club members at a recent Dr. Seuss event.

Eighty years ago, a few Long Beach men found they had a common concern over the future of the city's youth.

The result was a branch of the Boys Club, soon to be the Boys Club of Long Beach. There has been steady growth since, according to current CEO Don Rodriguez, with three permanent Boys & Girls Clubs (the name changed nationwide in 1990) and eight school-based activity centers.

"They had a great vision," Rodriguez said of the founders. "Today, we have 1,300 to 1,700 members at any given time. It costs $15 a year, and we've never turned anyone away due to financial circumstances."

The club's mission is, "To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens." Rodriguez said that translates to helping every child have a plan for when they get out of high school, whether that's college, vocational school or a career.

Help with homework is a given at the centers. At the three permanent clubs, a hot dinner is available as well. Rodriguez said many of the children simply don't have enough to eat.

"We focus on five areas," Rodriguez said. "There's leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, the arts and sports and fitness. It deals with the whole child."

Collaboration with other groups in Long Beach has allowed the Boys & Girls Club to serve more children, Rodriguez said. The school sites have after-school programs with both homework help and recreation. Summer programs and camps almost always involve a partnership.

For example, there's a YMCA across the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Del Amo Boulevard from the Dean A.Eastman/Fairfield Center in north Long Beach. The Y has a swimming pool, the Boys and Girls Club doesn't. But members get swimming lessons at the Y.

Rodriguez said the next expansion of Boys and Girls Club programs will be with a mobile classroom, to be delivered in late May or early June. He's already reaching out for locations where the mobile center can park and provide programs.

In addition to Eastman/Fairfield, the Boys and Girls Club has permanent facilities at the Freeman E. Fairfield/Westside Center, 1835 W. Willard St., and the John C. and Alice Wallace/Petrolane Center at 1920 Lemon Ave.

All that activity takes people, and money. The greater Long Beach clubs employ 122 people full time, Rodriguez said, and has an annual budget of $2.7 million to $3 million a year.

With a 42-member board working to raise money, direct donations carry much of the load. But the group also has two major fundraisers a year. One is a Corporate Luncheon put on with the help of Skip Keesal and Keesal, Young and Logan that brings national and international leaders to Long Beach for a speech.

The other is the annual gala, that deliberately changes shape year after year.

"We try to make it new and fresh each year," Rodriguez said. "But it's always a party atmosphere." 

This year, in tribute to the 80th anniversary, it's Flashback Friday ’80s themed event on Friday, May 17, at Hotel Maya. A live band will play the music of 1984 while guests dance, enjoy a hosted bar and food stations, along with entertainment and games.  live auction will cap the evening.

Tickets start at $150 for reserved tables or lounge seating. for more information and to buy tickets, go to www.bgclublb.org/Flashback or call (562) 595-5945.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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