Mari Rossi, a Scotts Valley philanthropist, just offered the Santa Cruz Boys and Girls Club a challenge grant, to match up to 50,000 dollars for a new portable classroom outside of their clubhouse off Scotts Valley Drive.  On top of providing school lunches for needy children throughout Scotts Valley, Rossi has been working with the Boys and Girls Club for a couple of years.  Rossi exclaimed, “If kids are hungry, they can’t learn! You’d be surprised how many food insecure kids we have, even though we live in an affluent community.”  When asked about the motivation for her philanthropy, Rossi answers with her simple slogan, “Our kids, our future.”

Before the holidays got into full swing, I met with Rossi, Maia Yates, the Aliberti Clubhouse Director, and Andrea Tolaio, the Club’s Development Officer to discuss Rossi’s donation.  Amongst wrapping paper and scattered gifts at the Boys and Girls Clubhouse, these sweet and generous women explained their plans for the grant.  Originally, Rossi proposed a playground, but realized the kids were content with their outdoor space and instead were deeply in need of more inside learning spaces.  She testified towards the necessity of this donation, “There’s no place in Scotts Valley for kids.  We used to have the roller rink and arcade and that kind of stuff and now there’s nothing… So many parents don’t get home until 6 or 7 at night because they have to work.” Tolaio added, “We serve a lot of single head households.  Just moms, fathers, or grandparents.  For those folks, what would they do without something like this?”  Yates elaborated on the mission of the clubhouse, “When children walk through those doors, they should feel safe, empowered, learned, loved, valued, and productive.”  The twelve staff members and volunteers at the Clubhouse serve about 120 children (aged 6-18) throughout San Lorenzo and Scotts Valley.

The current clubhouse contains a full kitchen, computer lab, art room/education room, game/reading room, and outdoor area roamed by the Club dog of two years, Ben. Despite their efficient use of resources, the Clubhouse is quite cramped and at maximum occupancy. The new space will allow for another 45 kids per day and give the staff space to run special programs.  Maia Yates, the Clubhouse Director, is especially excited about the potential to run more specialty programs like Power Hour, where members receive help on their homework, and SMART Girls, a coming of age program for females. Yates believes these new programs “will be a huge opportunity for the youth.”

Tolaio pointed out the space for the 60 by 24 foot portable on the asphalt directly behind the original clubhouse, which was funded by Joe and Linda Aliberti.  She continued, “[The portable] is so vital, because we are out of room… We’ve never waitlisted for Boys and Girls Club. It’s not our thing.  But it gets to the point where we need to be safe, we have ratios we need to maintain, and we want to make sure we’re being effective and are able to serve these kids with the best quality programs we can.”

The Club plans on renting it for the next three years with the grant money, beginning this spring.   As of December 23rd, the Clubhouse raised half of the grant, around 23,000 dollars.  Yates further described why the portable is important for the Boys and Girls Club, “We’ve really tried to be all-inclusive.  It’s not just Scotts Valley… It’s everywhere because parents have needs.  We’ve tried to make it possible, even for kids up at Boulder Creek Elementary.”

Obviously, the wide reach of the Aliberti Clubhouse is vital for our community.  However, taking care of children from Boulder Creek to Vine Hill Elementary creates a whole host of issues, aside from a cramped clubhouse. Tolaio voiced these issues best, “The biggest barrier for Boys and Girls Club is accessibility.  How do you transport, how do you get your kids from one place to the next?”  Everyday students can shuttle to the clubhouse or walk from school, in a cluster Yates lovingly describes as the “amoeba.” Yates, the Clubhouse Director and San Lorenzo Valley High School graduate recalled from her high school days, “Either you walked home on Highway Nine, took the bus by yourself, or you played a sport.”  Both Yates’ children love the Clubhouse, “they don’t want to do anything else but come here.” She’s so glad San Lorenzo Valley High School teens now have another afterschool option, but with the shuttles at capacity, the Clubhouse can’t bus anymore kids. 

I also had the pleasure of speaking with two club members, Ava, an eighth grader at Scotts Valley Middle School, and Robbie, a sophomore at SVHS. Robbie mused that his favorite part of the club is “The staff members are awesome…. And how the environment feels… It’s like a big hug holding you in.” Ava added that she “can be [her]self here without feeling judgement.” She also appreciated Power Hour and “being encouraged to get [homework] out and get it done.”  Robbie piped up about the Club’s impact on his grades, “I’ve almost aced all of my finals, thanks to this place.”

Looking into the future, the Boys and Girls Club have large goals to complete.  Rossi is starting another scholarship fund for Club members and talking with Bill Brooks, a Scotts Valley developer about a Club Teen Center in the new town center, perhaps with a pool.  Tolaio spoke of eventually constructing a larger clubhouse, she currently wants more buses, for afterschool transportation, volunteers, and cash donations.  Maia Yates is looking forward to recruiting more volunteers, “Youth in high school volunteer and they end up loving it and eventually coming to work.”  If you’d like to volunteer, get in touch with Maia Yates at maia@boysandgirlsclub.info.

Ultimately Tolaio understands this grant as hugely important for the Boys and Girls Club’s future, “’Tis the season to support kids.  We’re so grateful to Mari for the opportunity to provide a portable classroom… We’re a small community, but we’re a mighty one.”

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