Taco Tuesday? More like tamales, which were passed out to friendly faces on Tuesday during the Annual Holiday Board Luncheon at the Santa Clarita Valley Boys & Girls Club – James T. Ventress Clubhouse.
Led by the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley board of directors, this annual tradition, which dates back decades, recognized the community members who made an impact for the youth in the past year.
Immediate Past President Gloria Mercado-Fortine said those honors were a significant incentive behind Tuesday’s event.
“We’re going to give awards for those outstanding volunteers that have worked on our various events, you know, whether it’s Festival of Trees or volunteered here, while acknowledging some of the board members as well as businesses, community volunteers and board members who have done a lot,” Mercado-Fortine said. “We take seriously the work that our community volunteers do. We find ways to acknowledge them and thank them, and this is an event where we do that.”
The following recipients were presented with awards: Stephanie English, Board Member of the Year; Lilly Hernandez, Employee of the Year; Premier America Foundation, Sam Dixon Legacy Award; Kirsi Dervin, National Charities League and Capt. Justin Diez, Gary Condie Special Recognition Award; Kathy Rutherford, Tony Newhall Volunteer of the Year; Maria Rivas, Alex Kontogiannis Parent of the Year.
Mercado-Fortine, as well as Chief Executive Officer Matt Nelson and outgoing board President Matt Carpenter, concluded the ceremony by recognizing Thomas Dierckman, a longtime board member.
Dierckman, in an emotional speech, expressed sincere gratitude in having the the Sierra Vista Junior High School Clubhouse renamed as the Thomas E. Dierckman Clubhouse — Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley.
“I feel like I’m just face forward. I feel like I’m privileged to represent all of you and over 30 years, I’ve had the privilege to be part of a team where people have come and gone, but have shared commitment to our kids,” Dierckman said to the crowd. “If you can affect our kids, we can affect our future.”
Jim Ventress, the club’s former longtime chief executive, reflected on the past, and the steps it took to create a strong youth-serving presence in the SCV.
“When we started this project, we weren’t a city yet, so we were working with the county roads, the county park. After a while, I started attending some of the cityhood meetings and Carl Boyer, Connie Worden-Roberts [and others] at the time were getting together,” Ventress said. “Clyde Smyth and Tom Lee agreed to co-chair the capital campaign to raise [funds] that started out with $1.5 million and wound up almost $2 million.”
The timeline entailed raising money during the capital campaign in 1989 and 1990, starting construction in 1991 and opening the first facility in Newhall in 1992.
“When we were first raising money, we still had to operate the satellite system that we had at five different locations. But we wanted this to be the first full service facility,” Ventress said.
According to Ventress, the focus was on creating a club for students who were in middle school, who had surpassed daycares. Choosing the current location, where income levels vary and is across the street from Placerita Junior High School, was the strongest approach.
“If we look at about a mile radius, we have the income level from A to Z. The city knew that we needed to do more for teens. And we wanted to keep the fees low,” Ventress said. “What do they need us to do after school while [their moms are] working? Help get their homework done, have a nice healthy snack for them, let them have some fun.”
Ventress views the impact of the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley as a strong melting pot, where many of the kids are from different ethnic groups and income levels and have grown to do great things.
“I think it is very healthy, because that’s what America is: a melting pot. We’re from all over the world,” Ventress said. “Hearing from the alumni [is great]. They’re all over the place doing things, we have two or three neurosurgeons. That makes me feel really good.”
Ventress thanks the volunteers and staff members who continue to dedicate their time for the generations who have benefited from the facility’s presence in Newhall throughout the last three decades.
“We’re rich in many other ways. That’s why we stick with what we do. We have a passion for it, and it works.”