The Venice community has experienced its share of transformation over the last four decades, but one constant has been the role of the Boys & Girls Club in improving the lives of community youths.

The Boys & Girls Club of Venice — which aims to allow all young people, especially those in need, to reach their full potential — is marking its 40th anniversary of serving the local community this year. Having served thousands of youths and families over the years, the club will officially celebrate its 40th year at the Third Annual Westside Champion of Youth Dinner and Auction.

The event is scheduled to begin with a reception and silent auction at 6:30 p.m. Friday, October 17th, followed by a dinner at 7:30 p.m. at The Ritz-Carlton, 4375 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey.

The fundraiser is intended to recognize the Boys & Girls Club’s four decades of providing programs and services to local youngsters aged six to 18, as well as its commitment to the communities surrounding the club.

“For any nonprofit that succeeds and continues to grow with quality programming for 40 years, I think it’s remarkable,” said Cathy Hession, board president for the club.

Referring to the club’s role in the community over 40 years, executive director Erikk Aldridge said, “If you were to take this club that’s been here for 40 years away from this community, it would be interesting to see what the impact would be.

“From a historical context, it’s amazing that you can have a community-based organization last in the same location for 40 years, and in that 40-year history only have three executive directors.”

The first of those executive directors was David Mandell, who also founded the Boys & Girls Club of Venice in 1968 at the Lincoln Boulevard site where the James Collins Center main branch is now located. J.R. Dzubak served as the second executive director and Aldridge took over about three years ago.

The club was originally known as the Boys Club and was established as a federal VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) project on Venice Beach. After the project ended, community leaders worked to create an ongoing organization that would meet the needs of local youths. The club operated from a converted duplex for 25 years and in 1990, “Girls” was added to the club name.

The club’s board of directors determined in 1994 that a larger facility was needed for more efficient services and committed to a campaign to construct a fully-equipped building. But following the Northridge Earthquake, club activities were moved to other local facilities until the new center could be completed.

Although construction costs exceeded original projections, the new James Collins Center opened in two phases, with the first floor opening in September 1999 and the second and third floors opening in June 2000. Former Boys & Girls Club board president Michael Wise called the opening of the James Collins Center building one of the key highlights in the club’s history.

The Boys & Girls Glub currently serves about 4,000 youths per year from 17 schools through programs at four facilities —the James A. Collins Center, 2232 Lincoln Blvd. in Venice, Venice High School, Coeur d’ Alene Avenue Elementary School and Short Avenue Elementary School.

The annual membership fee is just $14, which includes snacks and unlimited participation in five Core Program areas and activities.

As the club marks its 40th anniversary, officials with the organization say that its most lasting impact has been on the youths who have come through the doors over the years.

“This building and club have been a sanctuary for so many kids in Venice who ended up there,” Wise said. “A lot of them have gone on to be successful and come back to the club. It was one of the most fulfilling experiences that I’ve been involved with.”

The club has not only provided a learning environment but an alternative and a place where youths can go that is safe and secure, Wise explained.

Hession agreed, saying, “It’s a safe, affordable and accessible place for them to come after school.”

“It’s evolved into not just a safe place but a place of enrichment,” Aldridge said.

A main factor in changing the lives of the youths over the years has been the club’s staff and volunteers who “truly have one-on-one relationships with the community,” he said.

One club member who credits the club with transforming his life is former club Youth of the Year and Venice High School graduate Oscar Duncan. The 19-year-old said he became an active member in the seventh grade to avoid getting into trouble, a decision that has put him on the path to success.

“It provided a complete transformation for me by giving me more structure and a positive environment,” said Duncan, who now works as a music coordinator and teen assistant at the club.

Being involved in the club helped Duncan relate to youths from different backgrounds and learn values such as sportsmanship.

“The club showed me another way — a positive way,” he said.

Aldridge says the club is now striving for its goal of enhancing its programs to help keep pace with society. Hession said the club also wants to continue serving more members.

At the dinner and auction event October 17th, Margaret and David Lederer, who are longtime supporters of the club, will be presented with the Founder’s Award. David Lederer served as the club’s first board of directors president.

Proceeds from the event go toward sponsoring scholarships for club members and enhancing core programs, such as the arts, character and leadership development, sports, fitness and recreation and education.

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