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Boys & Girls helped him avoid wrong path in life
Boys and Girls Club of Manteca Operations Director Jon Cardoza shows off the Youth of the Year award he received in 1994. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL


• WHAT: Manteca Boys & Girls Club
• WHERE: 545 W. Alameda St.
• WHEN: Monday through Friday from 3 to 8 p.m.
• COST: $24 a year
• MORE INFO: Call 239-KIDS

Getting involved with gangs at an early age and having no direction could have spelt disaster for Jon Cardoza.

Growing up in a rough neighborhood with little positive influences around, Cardoza soon found he was running with a group of people that he would have likely followed to either a jail cell or a cemetery plot.

But it was neighborhood friends that suggested the Manteca Boys and Girls Club as a place to pass the time, and the 11-year-old figured that it was as good of an idea as any.

Now almost 20 years later, Cardoza serves as the Director of Operations of the facility under Executive Director Charlie Halford, and gets the chance on a daily basis to interact with kids that he recognizes might be headed down the same troubled path he was on.

“One of the biggest things about this place is that it gets kids involved and keeps them busy, and when you’re busy you’re less likely to do something you’re not supposed to do,” Cardoza said. “I remember thinking when I was on my way here for the first time that it was going to be a bunch of classrooms and things like that. Then I saw kids everywhere playing games and having fun – just like at an amusement park.

“I fell in love with this place right there and then.”

With an outgoing personality, Cardoza quickly struck up relationships with then-Program Director Casey Tinnin and former Executive Director Chuck Crutchfield – two people he credits with helping to keep him on the straight and narrow when it was so easy to go off with the wrong crowd.

He quickly made his mark on both his fellow club mates as well as the staffers that oversee the operation.

In 1993 Cardoza was honored as Sportsman of the Year, and only 12 months later received the club’s highest annual honor – Youth of the Year – all within a three-year span of becoming a member.

A structured curriculum gave Cardoza and his friends a chance to have some semblance of order that they could easily adjust to, and the combination of games and sports were the ultimate for a pre-adolescent boy trying to find his own way.

The fact that general acceptance is a club mandate helped a lot as well.

“A lot of these kids that come down here get labeled by groups at school and get picked on for being different,” Cardoza said. “We don’t do that here, and a lot of times the people who are different are the people who are the most interesting – they’ve just never been given a chance.
“When you a see a kid that is used to being depressed all the time smile because he’s having fun – that’s what this organization is all about.”