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Boys & Girls Club Plans Centers at 6 Middle Schools

Youth: Campuses targeted for before- and after-school activities include those in Calabasas, Agoura Hills.

April 27, 2001|JENIFER RAGLAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Following a nationwide trend to keep youngsters out of trouble during crucial before- and after-school hours, a fledgling Boys & Girls Club in Thousand Oaks plans to build new facilities at each of the greater Conejo Valley's six middle schools.

The Boys & Girls Club of America, the fastest-growing youth organization in the country, operates several chapters in Ventura County but until now hasn't ventured into the Conejo Valley, where one in every four residents is under 18.

"Some people would think we wouldn't need it, because we're an upper-income area, but unfortunately our kids can get into just as much trouble as other kids," said Cal Johnston, a Calabasas developer and Thousand Oaks resident who is spearheading the effort.

Conejo Valley Unified School District board members this week endorsed Johnston's conceptual plan, which would put four, $1-million buildings on district-owned property. Although many details won't be worked out for another six months, the clubhouses would be about 10,000 square feet each and situated near new gymnasiums being built at the middle schools, Johnston said.

Officials in the Las Virgenes Unified School District, which would house facilities on middle schools in Agoura Hills and Calabasas, have also conceptually endorsed the plan.

The six schools are Colina, Los Cerritos, Sequoia and Redwood in the Conejo Valley Unified, and A.E. Wright in Calabasas and Lindero Canyon in Agoura Hills.

The number of new club sites opened on school grounds has increased during the past three years, said Long Beach-based David Sykes, a regional director for the Boys & Girls Club of America. With 267 clubs opened last year, Sykes said the organization is growing faster than any other national youth group.

Partnering with school districts is something the organization encourages, he said.

"It's definitely a trend," Sykes said. "Working together is a smart way to do business."

And placing the group's activity centers on school campuses also eliminates one of the biggest problems stand-alone clubs face: transportation.

This strategy has worked in other areas.

In Oxnard, seven clubs operate after-school programs inside the cafeterias of elementary schools, each serving about 125 children a day. Eliminating the need to drive somewhere is a big reason for the clubs' success, even without a separate facility, said Susan Lopez, director of the club at Lemonwood School.

Middle school-aged children, making up 65% of Boys & Girls Club members nationally, are "the heart of the club," said Johnston, who has been active in Thousand Oaks youth issues for several years.

Despite a host of after-school programs and sports leagues available to Conejo Valley youth, there is still a void in supervised activities targeting children who are too old for day care and too young to be at home alone before parents return from work, community leaders say.

Many working parents need supervised care for their children in the early morning, after they leave for work but before school begins. Los Cerritos Middle School Principal Eleanor Love said 40 to 50 students arrive at school long before the bell rings at 8:14 a.m, leaving them little to do but socialize in the lunch yard.

"We have a wonderful teen center just a mile away, but the kids can't get there," she said.

Once established, Boys & Girls Clubs charge members $10 to $15 a year to take part in the daily programming, which ranges from educational to recreational. Johnston said the Conejo Valley clubs will include homework hours as well as gym activities, such as basketball and other sports.

He estimates the project's total price at about $6.5 million, which includes construction of six clubhouses and the first year of operations. Johnston, who is a trustee on the national Boys & Girls Club board, said the money will come from federal, state and local governments as well as individual and business donations from the community.

Organizers hope to have the first programs up and running in an activity room at Colina Middle School in Thousand Oaks by the end of this year in order to qualify for a $35,000 federal grant. Additional funding may be available from the Boys & Girls Club national office if certain timelines are met.

"It's an initiative that's very grass-roots, and it will take a lot of local people getting involved," Johnston said.

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