By Rick Griffin
The Boys and Girls Clubs of East County (BGCEC) has begun construction of its new Brady Family Clubhouse in La Mesa that will house the Gagon Academy and Bill Walton Gymnasium. The new clubhouse is located past a ball field on the west end of the La Mesa Arts Academy.
The new 26,000-square-foot Brady Family Clubhouse will be the largest of the six Boys and Girls Clubs of East County. The clubhouse will feature a learning center and homework study room named the Gagon Academy, plus a full-service kitchen and nutrition center and the Little Rascals area for 5- to 7-year-olds. It will also showcase the 10,000-square-foot Bill Walton Gymnasium, named after the Helix High graduate (class of 1970) and TV basketball broadcaster on the PAC 12 network.
When completed, the Brady Family Clubhouse combined with the existing Brady Family Teen Center — located on the east end of the La Mesa Arts Academy campus — will serve up to 300 children a day, ages 5 to 18, BGCEC officials said.
“This dream has become a reality because of the incredible partnerships we’ve built with the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District, the County of San Diego, city of La Mesa, Ron and Mary Alice Brady and Beth LeFriant of the Gagon Estate,” said Forrest Higgins, CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of East County. “This project is a credit to La Mesa, the community and its leaders. The primary mission of the Boys and Girls Clubs is to save lives and the new clubhouse will give more kids the opportunity to a successful future. We cannot wait to open our doors in the spring of 2018.”
Attendees at the July 12 groundbreaking ceremony included: Bill Walton, La Mesa native and former professional basketball player; Ron and Mary Alice Brady, owners of the Brady Companies, who have donated $3 million to BGCEC; and Kathy Aylott, banker and acquaintance of the estate of Eleni and Wolfgang Gagon of San Diego, also responsible for a $3 million donation. Also attending were County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis and La Mesa Spring-Valley School board member David Chong.
“It’s another perfect La Mesa day,” Walton said at the groundbreaking attended by more than 200 people. “I’m the luckiest person on earth. Thank you to everyone here for your passion and for creating a phenomenal community of love and support. Let’s keep dreaming and keep working.”
“We are thrilled for the opportunity to leave this world a better place,” said Ron Brady. “The location for the new clubhouse is perfect with the Teen Center on one end, La Mesa Arts Academy in the middle the clubhouse on the other end of campus and adjacent to Helix High School. It creates a chain of support and progress for these kids, from kindergarten through high school, as they prepare for college.
“There’s no better feeling in the world than supporting the Boys and Girls Clubs because it’s better to build kids than try to mend adults. They’re teaching kids the importance of personal responsibility and accountability, which ensures kids receive the consequences of their own behavior. I love the sound of construction. But, soon the noise will change to laughter and fun and joy and teambuilding of children. We’re honored be part of a living legacy because this place will be alive.”
Mary Alice Brady shared why the new clubhouse is important to her personally.
“We are so very grateful and proud to be part of this effort that will impact young people for future decades,” she said. “I grew up as a foster child and I know what it means to provide a safe place for our children. It’s a dream come true. Our dream is now a reality.”
“Today it’s all about the kids,” said Supervisor Jacob, who grew up in La Mesa and whose district includes La Mesa. “I’m honored to be part of a unique opportunity for the County of San Diego to contribute $500,000 for this project. I’m looking forward to the ribbon cutting next year.”
“The new clubhouse will be a catalyst to help change the entire western La Mesa area,” said Arapostathis, also a co-founder of La Mesa Arts Academy and the director of theater arts at the school, as well as director of Peter Pan Jr. Theater and C. Hook Theater. “When the doors open on the first day, the impact on our youth will be tremendous and immediate.”
“For 50 years, the Boys and Girls Clubs of East County have made a direct investment in the hearts of our children and we are all honored to be part of their future investment,” said Chong.
Also speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony was Steve South, president/CEO of Edco Disposal Corp., who has served as chair of the La Mesa Capital Campaign, a fundraising program that launched in 2014 (Walton has served as the campaign’s honorary chairman). “This facility will be a game-changer for La Mesa’s west side community,” said South.
According to BGCEC officials, the La Mesa Capital Campaign has raised roughly $8.5 million needed to fund construction of the new Brady Family Clubhouse. Fundraising will continue towards a goal of $1 million needed for an operational endowment. The campaign previously raised funds for renovations to the existing Brady Family Teen Center. Renovations completed in 2014 to the Teen Center included an exterior face lift and interior upgrades, along with flooring and carpeting, new furniture, computers and a security system.
The Brady’s $3 million donation to the La Mesa Capital Campaign included $1 million to renovate the existing teen center, which was renamed the Brady Family Teen Center, along with $2 million to build the Brady Family Clubhouse.
The estate of Eleni and Wolfgang Gagon has pledged another $3 million to BGCEC. Furthering education and academics in young people was a focus for the Gagons, according to Beth LeFriant, estate trustee and family friend.
“The Gagons were immigrants, educators and lifelong learners who pledged their philanthropy to educating young children,” LeFriant said.
A difficult childhood complicated by the pressures of World War II drove Eleni Bukuvalas and Wolfgang Gagon from their respective native countries to San Diego, where they met and were married in 1971. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Gagons built a substantial real estate portfolio after investing in apartments and renovating properties in San Diego’s Golden Hill and Kensington communities. Wolfgang, originally from Germany, passed away at age 60 in 1997, and Eleni, originally from Greece, passed away at age 83, in 2012.
Also at the groundbreaking, Priscilla Schreiber, chair of the Boys & Girls Clubs of East County Foundation, reminded attendees of previous successful capital campaigns.
“In 2006, we opened the Brady Family Teen Center. In 2007, it was the Conrad Prebys Clubhouse in Santee,” she said. “In 2011, we finished remodeling the Conrad Prebys Complex Clubhouse and Teen Center in El Cajon. When the Brady Family Clubhouse opens in 2018, it will be our fourth successful major capital campaign in 12 years.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs of East County, a chartered member of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, has 2,000 members, ages 5 to 18, and operates five facilities, including: the Conrad Prebys Complex with the El Cajon Clubhouse, 1171 East Madison Ave., and El Cajon Teen Center, 1153 East Madison Ave.; Lakeside Clubhouse, 12824 Lakeshore Drive; Brady Family La Mesa Teen Center, 7775 Junior High Drive; and, Conrad Prebys Santee Clubhouse, 8820 Tamberly Way.
—Rick Griffin is a public relations and advertising consultant based in La Mesa. Reach him through his website rickgriffin.com.