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San Juan Group's Bid to Save Youth Center Fails

Recreation: Boys & Girls Club will close its facility in a Latino area after fund-raising to keep it open another month falls short.


A community-based group raised more than $11,000 in less than two weeks in hopes of keeping a Boys & Girls Club open in San Juan Capistrano. But it appears the effort was in vain.

The facility in a predominantly Latino neighborhood will close May 3, club officials said Wednesday. Trustees of the Boys & Girls Club of Capistrano Valley announced last month that a $200,000 budget shortfall was forcing the closure of their El Camino site, which they said is in disrepair and too small to handle the community's needs.

Ten days ago, the organization's board told parents and community activists they would need to raise nearly $13,000 by Tuesday to keep the facility open another month. The group fell about $1,800 shy of its goal and failed to negotiate a long-term lease with the Capistrano Unified School District, which owns the El Camino facility.

Beginning May 6, the children who now use the dilapidated five-room facility will be bused two miles to a 2-year-old club near Marco F. Forster Middle School.

"We appreciate all the effort. We support the spirit of what that group did," said James Littlejohn, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Capistrano Valley. "Now I'd like their support in making this a smooth transition to the other site, so we can continue to provide the kids of this area with the programs and services they need."

But group leaders Wednesday wondered how many of the 100 youths will use the new club, which already serves more than 300 children.

"A lot of the parents in the neighborhood don't have access to cars," said Gia Lugo, whose niece is a member of El Camino. "And most of them don't want to send their kids to a bunch of virtual strangers."

Lugo said her group hopes to reopen El Camino under another organization or move it to a different location.

Littlejohn said the board is going out of its way to make El Camino children feel welcome at the newer facility, which is four times larger and in an upscale section of town. He said a school district bus and club van will shuttle the youths between the newer club and San Juan Elementary School, which most of El Camino's children attend.

"We're having a trial run next week with the bus system," Littlejohn said. "We want the parents to see the facility, and we want the children to feel comfortable."

David M. Swerdlin, a San Juan Capistrano councilman, said he sympathizes with both groups and hopes the situation does not disrupt the community.

"This whole thing breaks my heart," he said. "It would be very easy for the folks in that area to think there's discrimination. But it's based on a fiscal reality. I'd hate to see the [El Camino] parents give up on the club."

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