The Boys and Girls Club of East LA
Making an impact on the community, one kid at a time.
On the corner of McDonnell and Cesar Chavez Ave., in the heart of East Los Angeles, lies a chapter of the Boys and Girls Club. Serving an average of 2,000 local youth per year, the Boys and Girls Club of East LA plays an important role in the community, providing recreation and support for many underprivileged kids.
Anna Araujo has been the Executive Director of BGCELA for more than 12 years, even though she only planned to stay for a few months. “It’s the kids,” she said, “being able to see the looks on their faces and really help them through difficult times in their life, it just makes me feel good to know I’m doing something good for the Latino community.” East Los Angeles’ population is 97 percent Hispanic, according to city-data.com. Most of the kids who participate in programs at Araujo’s facility are given opportunities to try things their families likely wouldn't have been able to afford otherwise. “It only costs $10 a year to join, which is nothing compared to how much it would cost to what we provide somewhere else,” she said.
BGCELA has roughly 30 programs that rotate around the year. Many of these are academically focused – such as “Goals for Graduation” – while others teach kids a new skill or sport. The most popular program is soccer. This is due to the fact that BGCELA features a pristine soccer field that youth from all over Los Angeles travel to play on. It was paid for by the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Washington D.C., the Manchester City football club in England, and ESPN. Carlos Mendoza is a 12 year old East LA native. He’s been playing on this soccer field since he was a little kid. “I started coming here a few years ago. I really like it. We come every week and there’s really nowhere else to go to play like this,” he said. And, according to Mendoza, soccer in East LA is not only seen as a source of recreation for youth, but also as a source of hope and opportunity, because Manchester City representatives are using the field as a way to recruit talented players.
Brian Cruz is 16 years old and still a sophomore in high school. But, on the lively soccer field at BGCELA, he is something of a celebrity. “Everyone knows Brian,” Mendoza said. “We all want to do what he’s doing one day.”
A few years ago, Manchester City took interest in Cruz. Since then, he has played for the youth teams of both the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA – franchises of Major League Soccer. Manchester City currently wants Cruz to take some time off from school to go to a program in New York City, but Cruz remains unsure of that path. “They want me to go to New York, but I don’t know if I can. I would have to pay for my own flight and everything and I’d have to stop school for a while. My parents – and everybody here also – really want me to graduate so I think I’m gonna focus on that for now. New York can come later,” Cruz said.
Araujo’s chapter of the Boys and Girls Club is special for many reasons. One being the pipeline to professional soccer leagues that seems to have been established, another being their high school graduation rate: 100%. “It’s something we’re all really proud of, and I think it’s what sets us apart from other after-school programs,” Araujo said. “We really take a personal interest in these kids and make them realize that, you know, college is an option.”
Araujo stays in touch with many of her kids long after they have graduated high school. Bianca Gonzalez, a student in the PhD program at UC Davis, is just one example. She comes back to BGCELA every year to give a speech to the kids, serving as a tangible realization of the potential for every East LA adolescent to be successful and accomplish their goals. “I’m happy to come back,” Gonzalez said. “Anna and everyone else there did so much for me, always pushing me and helping me – I mean, they even paid for my college applications – so I feel like it’s the least I can do to try to repay them for everything, because, I probably wouldn’t be where I am right now if it wasn’t for them.”