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Obituaries

Roy Roberts II, 59; Led Watts Boys-Girls Club

June 08, 2002|JON THURBER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Roy W. Roberts II, executive director of the Watts/Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club, who had a long and influential career in youth services in the Los Angeles area, has died. He was 59.

The driving force behind the club's new $7.2-million facility, Roberts suffered a heart attack Monday and was pronounced dead at Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood.

The 27,000-square-foot facility, which will formally open June 27, includes a computer lab and an expanded arts and crafts center, as well as a gymnasium and fitness center. It will serve as many as 4,000 children ages 7 to 17 each year. The old facility could serve only 1,000 youths a year.

A native of Houston, Roberts was raised in the Los Angeles area and attended public and private schools.

His work in the field began in 1966, when he served as director of youth services for a high school in the San Fernando Valley. After military service in Vietnam and South Korea from 1966 to 1969, Roberts continued his education at El Camino College and then Cal State Northridge.

He also took the post of program director at the San Fernando Valley Boys & Girls Club in Pacoima, which served local elementary schools and the San Fernando Gardens public housing project.

In 1975, he was named executive director of what was then called the Southern Area Boys Club, of which he had been a member as a teenager.

He took over a youth center that was going through a difficult period marked by a general decline in support for the community after the Watts riots 10 years earlier.

One of his first moves was to open the club to girls and rename it the Watts/Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club.

Over the years he broadened its scope of activities. In addition to athletics and recreation, staples at most Boys & Girls Clubs, he started tutoring programs, health education efforts and a youth leadership training program.

A large, soft-spoken man with an even disposition, Roberts became a surrogate father figure to generations of youths in Watts, Willowbrook, Compton and other parts of South-Central Los Angeles.

Cliff Johnson, current president of the club's board, recalled Roberts as a highly focused, inspirational person.

"He believed in strong programs," said Johnson, who was on the search committee that hired Roberts in 1975.

"His vision from the get-go was, 'I want to get the programs going and then we will build a new facility.' "

Roberts' leadership program for youths ages 14 to 18 challenged members to serve the community through volunteer efforts at area hospitals and within the club. Many youths acted as tutors in school subjects at the club.

The leadership program also gave members the opportunity to travel throughout the United States and to various European countries to attend conferences.

"He wanted to prepare kids to be successful leaders, and he challenged them. He told them, 'If you graduate from college, I will use all of my resources to help you get a job.' And more often than not he kept his word," Johnson said. "He was that well connected."

Since the early 1990s, Roberts was the driving force in efforts to fund and build a new facility at the club's longtime location on East 120th Street.

After many false starts and funding problems, ground was broken for the new building in 1999. Roberts raised $5.5 million of the $7.2 million total from private foundations, individuals, and state and county sources.

Survivors include his wife, Rudy; two sons, Roy III and Randell; and a granddaughter, Raven Lee Roberts. He is also survived by three brothers and a sister.

Funeral services are scheduled for Monday at St. Eugene's Catholic Church, 9506 Van Ness Ave., Los Angeles.

Contributions in his name can be made to the Watts/Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club Building Fund or Family Fund, 1339 E. 120th St. or Box 59189, Los Angeles, CA 90059.

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