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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

Clubs Need Clubhouses

April 21, 2002

What good is a neighborhood club without a clubhouse? That's the sad state of affairs confronting more than 100 Boys & Girls Club members in a predominantly Latino neighborhood of San Juan Capistrano.

The Boys & Girls Club of Capistrano faces a $200,000 budget shortfall that will force the El Camino clubhouse to close May 3. Parents and community activists recently protested the decision, but the board argues that the site--sandwiched between an elementary school and a residential area--is too small and in need of extensive repairs.

Youthful members view the clubhouse that once was part of the old Capistrano Union High School as a safe, fun place to hang out. Their parents depend on the clubhouse for much-needed after-school care.

The organization's board, however, seems to be facing a problem without an affordable solution. Even if $200,000 were to fall into the board's lap, the board's short-term lease with the Capistrano Unified School District means it would not make sense to make capital improvements.

The club plans to bus children to a clubhouse near Marco F. Forster Middle School, about two miles from the soon-to-be-abandoned facility. The city isn't charging the club for the newer, larger space. It's already the after-school home to more than 300 youths. This may work as a temporary solution, but parents obviously would rather have their children closer to home.

In a perfect world, a donor with deep pockets would fill the deficit hole. Parents and community leaders hope to raise funds and find corporate sponsors to keep their neighborhood facility open. They are lobbying the school district for a longer-term lease and asking the San Juan Capistrano City Council for financial help. One club member said, "We don't ask for much, and we don't complain. We just want somewhere to go." She's right. It really is worth the effort because the building provides a needed gathering place for neighborhood youth.

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