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The Valley

Amgen Pledges $3 Million for Youth Centers

Conejo Valley: The biotech firm's gift of cash and matching funds will help build six Boys & Girls Clubs at middle school campuses.

June 28, 2002|JENIFER RAGLAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thousand Oaks biotechnology giant Amgen Inc. will donate up to $3 million to an effort to build six Boys & Girls Clubs on middle school campuses in the Conejo Valley, marking what one official says is the largest single philanthropic gift a local branch of the national youth organization has ever received.

Barbara Bronson Gray, vice president of Amgen Foundation, said the gift also is the largest donation Amgen has made in the Conejo Valley since the company's inception 22 years ago.

She said middle-school-aged children are the most underserved in the community, and many come home from school each day to empty houses while their parents are at work.

"It's not easy being a teenager these days, with so many pressures," she said. "We felt this was a smart investment that will have a huge and lasting impact on kids and their families."

The donation was announced at a press conference Thursday at Sequoia Middle School in Newbury Park, the site of the first proposed 10,000-square-foot clubhouse that officials hope will open in fall 2004.

Amgen will give the Boys & Girls Club of Conejo and Las Virgenes $1.5 million upfront toward construction of the first three clubhouses, which will cost $6 million.

Another $1.5 million will be set aside as matching funds to encourage donations from other businesses, and will be used toward the project's second, $6-million phase of three more clubhouses.

"A lead gift like this is really what the cause needed to get started, because it assures us that the first phase will be successful," said Calabasas developer Cal Johnston, a Thousand Oaks resident who is chairman of the local group. "The economy and the stock market make a community effort like this very difficult at this time, but our kids can't wait."

Johnston started an effort to bring the Boys & Girls Club to the Conejo Valley last year. The idea came to him after observing many teenagers and younger kids hanging around shopping malls and parking lots, he said. But statistics convinced him of the need:

Nearly 37,000 children are enrolled in the Conejo Valley, Las Virgenes and Oak Park school districts.

About 56% come from families in which both parents work, according to the 2000 U.S. census.

About 31% live with one parent or guardian, according to the census.

Unsupervised youth commit 65% of petty crimes in the community between 3 and 8 p.m., according to the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.

No low-cost youth programs exist in the Conejo Valley.

Johnston said he hopes the clubs will eventually serve more than 7,000 children annually.

Four of the Boys & Girls Club facilities are planned for Thousand Oaks, and two will be in either Calabasas, Agoura Hills or Oak Park.

The city of Thousand Oaks has committed $1 million to the cause, and earlier this month Johnston announced he would contribute up to $500,000 of his own money.

He promised to match any donation of $1,000 or more from small business owners as a challenge to local entrepreneurs.

Sequoia was chosen as the first club site mainly because it had readily available space for a clubhouse on land in front of the school that once housed a library, said Bob Gross, development director for the Conejo Valley club.

Los Cerritos Middle School in Thousand Oaks will be the second location, and the other four sites are yet to be determined.

Sequoia Principal Michael Berger said his school is a good first choice also because it has the highest percentage of students receiving free or reduced-cost lunches out of the Conejo Valley's four middle schools.

The Boys & Girls Club--with a $15 to $20 annual membership fee--will serve those children who cannot afford the after-school homework programs offered by the park district for $200 a month, Berger said.

Boys & Girls Clubs began in urban centers and have long been associated with poor, inner-city kids. But in recent years, the clubs have moved toward small towns and wealthy suburbs such as Thousand Oaks, said Ron Moeckel, regional service director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

He said the Amgen gift is a record amount for the national organization.

"Even though we are an upscale community, there are thousands of kids who could fall through the cracks," Johnston said. "If we lose just a few kids for not having an after-school place to go, we lose those kids forever."

The Amgen Foundation donates about $8 million each year to a variety of causes.

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