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Pasadena Boys & Girls Club celebrates 85th anniversary | Feature Stories

When the Boys & Girls Club of Pasadena was founded in 1937, it was built as a safe and nurturing space for the community’s children. The club has since evolved into a network of two main clubhouses and two school-site locations with programs that foster both personal growth and social skills, sites that became havens for families throughout the San Gabriel Valley during the pandemic.

In a celebration of 85 years of service to their surrounding communities, the Boys & Girls Club of Pasadena has begun its year-long anniversary commemoration with a “birthday party” at the Mackenzie-Scott Clubhouse on Friday, Aug. 5.

“It’s very family oriented, so there’s something for all ages,” said Lisa Cavelier, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Pasadena. “It’s going to be just a big party, if you will.”

The celebration will run from 4 to 7 pm and feature food trucks, backpack giveaways, games and a kids’ basketball clinic with basketball street legend Sik Wit It. While entry to the event is free, food and drinks will be available for purchase from Lupita’s Tacos and Kona Ice trucks.

The club will also be offering tours of the newly renovated clubhouse, which was demolished on Dec. 17 and underwent an $800,000 interior remodel.

“We’re really proud of that,” Cavelier said. “It was a massive undertaking and some of us who were very involved in it are really exhausted, but it’s really beautiful.”

Cavelier explained that over the last three and a half years, the club has invested nearly $2 million in their facilities so the buildings would be “worthy of the kids and staff coming into them.”

“I want them walking into a beautiful facility that says, ‘Yes, this is where you belong and we’re here for you,’” Cavelier said.

As the facilities of the Boys & Girls Club of Pasadena have evolved over the last 85 years, so too has their list of programs offered to their participants. The club has served more than 2,000 youth, ages 6 to 18, annually, with its mission to fill the gap between school and home.

In recent years, Cavelier explained the club has focused on three core pillars for their programming: academic success, healthy lifestyles, and good character and leadership. The programs at the club are meant to build upon these pillars while balancing fun and the “serious business of youth development.”

From the club’s four locations, which are the Slavik branch on East Del Mar Boulevard, the Mackenzie-Scott branch on North Fair Oaks Avenue and two school-site clubhouses on the Odyssey Charter Schools’ campuses in Pasadena and Altadena, it runs out-of -school programs for students in the Pasadena Unified School District. Throughout the afternoon, the programs include hour-long activities like “power hour,” allowing students time to work on homework with access to a mentor when they need additional help. Other programs include a fitness hour in the gym and “image makers,” where students can take photographs and learn how to digitally adjust and display them.

“What we found is that it’s one thing for kids to come here and play and have fun, and that’s phenomenal, but we also are a very strong partner in these kids’ lives in helping them have academic success and in helping them to make healthy choices,” Cavelier said. “They’re learning math and doing all kinds of other things and they don’t even know it because it’s all put together as fun. The impact that we make, we see with the report cards that we gather a couple of times a year, we hear from families, we hear from teachers.”

When the school district closed at the start of the pandemic, the Boys & Girls Club shut its doors too. For Cavelier, it was a heartbreaking situation.

“We agreed that there’s no way we were going to stay closed, that we were going to reopen as fast as we could,” she said. “I was hearing from parents by May that were saying, ‘I’m being asked to come back to work, and I have no safe place for my kids.’ I’ll never forget a conversation with a mom. I was saying, ‘Well, what are you going to do?’ ‘Well, I’m going to leave them with my neighbor.’ ‘Do you know your neighbour?’ ‘No, not really. Not that well.’ … I’m a CEO and I’m a mom, and so that comes out in me occasionally, like all the time. I just said, ‘Wow, we have to do more.’”

The Boys & Girls Club of Pasadena reopened on June 15, 2020. They were only closed for approximately three months.

“We were almost in hazmat suits,” Cavelier explained with a laugh. “We were all just sort of terrified, but we filled up one whole building with about 80 kids all separated out in groups, washing our hands every two minutes, masked and all the above.

“We had a wonderful summer session, and it gave kids a chance to stay connected and socialize because they’d been isolated for a couple of months. And in many cases, isolated and terrified watching their families get sick, watching their families lose jobs, trying to get food.”

For the 2021 school year, when students were learning from home, the club opened both of their main buildings and held after-school and full-day programs so parents could bring their children from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm for supervised remote learning.

“It was a whole new model for us, but we were trying to pivot to be part of the solution,” Cavelier said. “Everything we do here is taking the lead from what families, parents and caregivers need and want. … We survived, and the club thrived.”

While the Boys & Girls Club of Pasadena’s 85th anniversary celebration may serve as a moment to reflect upon the club’s growth since its founding and perseverance through the hardships of recent years, Cavelier expressed excitement for the future and dreams of opening a center for teenagers in the community as well.

“These kids who’ve been through a lot, they’re all growing into teens now,” Cavelier said. “I think we need to come around them to prepare them for adulthood in a much deeper, more profound way.

“The club’s just got a great trajectory ahead. We’ve got more kids. We’ve doubled our footprint. We’re on two school sites now as well as our two big buildings. … Our future is bright.”

The Boys & Girls Club of Pasadena’s 85th Birthday Party

WHEN: 4 to 7 pm Friday, Aug. 5

WHERE: Mackenzie-Scott Clubhouse, 2020 N. Fair Oaks Avenue, Pasadena

COST: free admission

INFO: bgcpasadena.org

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