For kids, summertime offers the ultimate thrill of freedom from school. But for parents, it can often be the opposite, as they struggle to find ways to keep their children engaged and supervised. Thanks to the summer program at the Boys & Girls Club of Hollywood, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year, nearly 300 children have a place to go during the day.
For many families, cost is often a factor in deciding summer care options for their children. The club’s cost of $30 a week, plus a $30 membership, provides families with a viable economic option.
“Many of the people who come in live at poverty level or below, and this is their only option,” said Mel Culpepper, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Hollywood. “We are attempting to give our youth and children an alternative to Hollywood and Highland. We don’t want them there or hanging out at the In-N-Out Burger, where some shady people may be waiting for the 10, 11, 12, 13 year old girl that’s going to meet her friend there.”
Unfortunately, due to the program’s popularity and limited size, there is a waiting list, and each Monday lines of parents and their children form around the side of the building hoping to pick up an open spot in the program that week, Culpepper said.
There are other programs in the area, Culpepper admits, but what makes the Hollywood club unique is its affordability and experienced staff – some have worked at the location for more than 25 years and are Boys & Girls Club alumni themselves.
In the program, parents trust the club to keep their children’s minds and bodies active for 11-and-a-half hours, and provide lunch each day. Inside the facility, the club offers a variety of opportunities for children to express themselves through art, music and technology, while still providing ample time for exercise in the gym and nearby park, where the kids walk to each afternoon.
While some clubs and summer programs tout their day-trip excursions to amusement parks, like Magic Mountain, the Boys & Girls Club heads out on academic trips to the California Science Center.
Members of the Hollywood club’s summer program are predominantly younger children, which pose an interesting element to the environment the club’s more than 25 staff members work to maintain. It can sometimes be challenging to mitigate some of the issues of younger members. Some children have never been in a social setting without their parents before, and are still learning to manage their day without the presence of their parents.
The club also hosts a healthy-sized portion of teenagers, who are even granted their own private hangout room, where they can be by themselves, away from the younger children in the program, which they prefer, Culpepper said. The teen room features pool tables and activities throughout the day.
From the outside, the Boys & Girls Club of Hollywood looks much like other Boys & Girls Club facilities, but inside, the building is in the midst of a $2.5 million renovation. One of the major upgrades to the building will be in the facility’s gym. Currently, low hanging beams rest at a height that prohibits the members from playing basketball or volleyball, but after the renovation is complete, the gym’s ceiling will be raised to give kids the ample space they need to shoot three-pointers.
The learning center at the club is bustling with activity, teaching social studies, math and a variety of other subjects the kids learn about in school. In the summer months, the center stays open to provide academic stimulation because many kids do not have the luxury of taking off for summer because of various language barriers and overcrowding in schools, Culpepper said. So even in the off months children take part in educational games and activities to keep their minds in shape.
“You may be poor, and you may not have access to a lot of other things, but if you have an education, it’s going to give you a leg up,” Culpepper said.
The learning center provides kids with a place to work on their homework after school as well as a place to address any questions they may have about a subject that their teachers were unable to help with.
“It’s literally an extension of school so our kids have the ability to get an additional four hours of school,” Culpepper said.
The Boys & Girls Club of Hollywood is a member of a the national Boys & Girls Club organization, but each site, in a franchise-type fashion, has the common thread of the Boys & Girls Club name. Each center is responsible for providing its own funding.
Most of the club’s revenue and funding – about 68 percent – is provided through grants, private foundations and donations.
But in the last few years, the amount of money being donated to the club from private individuals has slipped, as many people have had to allocate money they would have donated to filling their gas tanks or buying groceries, Culpepper said.
With revenues and donations decreasing, Culpepper has worked harder on writing more grant proposals and making more contacts to secure relationships to support the club. But she fears, however, that if funding continues to dry up they will be forced to cut hours and eliminate programming for the children.
“Every bit helps when you are a small non-profit trying to meet the bottom line,” Culpepper said. “Unlike a lot of small non-profits, that haven’t been around that long, the club does have assets (they own their building) and a foundation set up just to support the club.”
The Boys & Girls Club of Hollywood has performed an important role in children’s lives and the community for years, with one notable Hollywood club alumnus being Councilmember Tom LaBonge, 4th District. In support of the Boys & Girls Club of Hollywood, this summer council district four came together with Paramount Studios to cover the club’s recreation and park fees.
“There are institutions that will make a difference in your life,” Labonge said. “Some of our country’s most successful leaders have been alumni of Boys & Girls Clubs.”
But the most important role that the club can provide is in sparking an interest in a child’s life that stays with them lifetime, not just a summer.
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