Tucked at the bottom of a trinket box that I brought with me when I moved several months ago was a trophy that I assumed was one of the Little League tokens handed out to every player when the season concludes.
It wouldn’t be until I pulled it out, recognized that it was a basketball player instead of the usual diamond-prowler, and dusted off the nameplate that I realized it was the Defensive MVP Award I earned from a Boys and Girls Club Basketball league.
It was then that my mind started to wonder.
While I grew up in a relatively solid middle class family, it didn’t take long for me to discover the Boys and Girls Club and everything that it had to offer – drawing me in with billiards and a fully functional air hockey table.
They had bumper pool. They had movie nights. They even had free lunch in the summertime.
Being too young to understand what socio-economics actually meant, I just assumed that everybody that I called a friend was just like me – headed home when the doors closed at night to a two-parent family that could afford to clothe them and send them to school with lunch money.
As I grew older, however, that outlook quickly changed – forging even closer friendships with kids who grew up without a father and turned to the Boys and Girls Club for positive role models that they didn’t have in their own lives.
Others used the make-shift haven as an alternative to prowling the streets in a part of town that didn’t exactly have Ozzie and Harriett living on every street corner. And this was at the height of the gang war where feuds over territory and drug rights could end in bloodshed without even so much as a second thought.
That Beats the Streets’
Once I reached high-school age I could see that the programs that the club offered served a specific purpose. That was to educate youth that might not otherwise get the direction they need to stay away from the street corners, gangs and the drug houses.
It truly was the “Club That Beats The Streets.” It was without a doubt responsible for giving hundreds of at-risk youth that were my age a chance to live normal productive lives despite being subjected to some of the worst home lives that you could possibly imagine.
It was through sports that I got the chance to forge some of these relationships with kids that were looking for the great escape. As a member of several All-Star teams that included traveling to places like Santa Rosa and Martinez to represent the Manteca site, I got to forge an even stronger bond with some of these kids that still remains to this day.
It was just over a week ago that I ran into an old friend while shopping at Target that at one time seemed destined for the life that he was trying to escape. He couldn’t have appeared better, and catching up not only made my day but left me thinking about the times we had more than a decade ago when things were so much simpler – even if the world around us seemed to be falling apart.
There’s no shortage of people who were responsible for making sure that these at-risk kids stayed on the straight and narrow. Chuck Crutchfield took an active role in just about everything inside of that building at 545 W. Alameda Street – whether it was coaching a basketball team or making the rounds in the game room to find out how everyone was going.
Former Program Director Casey Tinnin is still a family friend, and the trips that he joined both my father (who was a volunteer coach) and I on to Santa Rosa and Martinez are still things that get brought up anytime nostalgia becomes part of the conversation.
with magic inside
For those who don’t know it’s just a brick building. But inside is where the magic happens. Those brick walls serve as a haven for youth that often don’t have anywhere else to turn – staying away from the abusive or drug-filled homes or the friends that will only end up dragging them down.
So sitting there in my living room staring at this trophy I couldn’t help but recall all of these memories and flash back on the faces that made that period of time in my life something that I will never forget. Even though I was fortunate enough to come from a home with loving parents that cared immensely about what I was involved in, the exposure to the real world and the problems that people my own age were facing was a wake-up call that nothing could have prepared me for.
Now, thanks to the economy, the usership rate has increased by more than 50 percent while the funding for programs continues to shrink.
I don’t even want to think about what would happen if that building was forced to close its doors.
Antone Raymus knew what he was doing when he donated the $100,000 as a seed grant to cover the cost of construction of the building. He knew it would take care of some of this community’s youngsters who struggle the most. It was important to Raymus that he help secure their future in some small way.
Seeing the club reduce hours would not only be a disservice to the man who had the vision and the foresight to see his goal through, but it would be a terrible shame to the kids who need the guidance that the Boys and Girls Club offers.
They say that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and it’s all of our responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen.
The consequences would be devastating, and the last thing that these kids need right now is somebody else turning their back on them.
To contact Jason Campbell, e-mail email@example.com, or call (209) 249-3544.