Jeff Clemetson | Editor
Boys & Girls Clubs of East County open new La Mesa clubhouse
On Oct. 4, Boys & Girls Clubs of East County celebrated the opening of its Brady Family Clubhouse and Bill Walton Gymnasium with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by local representatives, as well as the gymnasium’s namesake.
The new 26,000-square-foot building, located at 7600 Junior High Drive, holds offices, a first-aid center, a learning academy, a game room, an art center and a 10,000-square-foot basketball court-style gym.
“A big … audacious project like this does not take place without volunteers who dream big, mixed in with equal amounts of crazy passion for youth and local community,” said Boys & Girls Club of East County (BGCEC) CEO Forrest Higgens.
Major partners in the effort to build the new facility included the city of La Mesa, which facilitated the necessary extension of Junior High Drive to allow access to the clubhouse and La Mesa Spring Valley School District (LMSVSD), which provided the land — part of the La Mesa Arts Academy (LMAC) property — through a $1-a-year lease for 100 years. Major donors included the clubhouse’s namesakes Ron and Mary Alice Brady, who donated $3 million and Eleni and Wolfgang Gagon, who also donated $3 million (and whose name adorns the clubhouse learning center). A donation by La Mesa City Councilmember Kristine Alessio, in honor her mother Dona Christensen, helped fund the building’s game room. In total, $9.4 million was raised to build the clubhouse and fund an endowment to operate it.
EDCO CEO Steve South, who chaired the capital campaign for the new clubhouse, thanked the many donors — “some large, some small” — who made the new building possible.
“Most of all, we had a barn raising — a barn raising in the village of La Mesa, a good old- fashioned barn raising where a lot of people came together,” he said. “Some gave money, some gave time, some gave hope, some pushed, some pulled, but we all came together and we made a facility that could last at least the next hundred years.”
LMSVSD board president David Chong thanked outgoing superintendent Brian Marshall for helping facilitate the lease agreement and also thanked The Hill Church for donating part of its land to the city for the Junior High Drive extension.
“This is an amazing example of the tremendous good that can be accomplished when government partners with private service organizations for the benefit of the community,” he said.
La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis, who also teaches at LMAC, shared that the first meeting to discuss the possibility of building the clubhouse was held in 2012. He said the major obstacle at the time was organizing the efforts of the city, school district, BGCEC and The Hill Church — two private and two public organizations.
“But instead of being an indictment of how possible bureaucracy can prevent progress, it was an example of how an accomplishment can be reached when we have a shared vision,” he said.
Arapostathis also shared that he would share pictures of the planned clubhouse and gym, even to LMAC students who would graduate the school before it was built.
“And we’d say, ‘someday the Boys & Girls Club will be there,’ and that someday is going to be today,” he said.
Bill Walton introduced himself as “Billy from La Mesa” and shared many fun and humorous stories of his time growing up and playing basketball at Helix High; the coaches, teammates and teachers he had; and his life “dream about being part of something special.”
“I’m the luckiest guy in the world because I got to grow up right here,” he said.
Walton shared that he was reluctant when first approached about helping raise funds for a gym named after him.
“I am not one of those guys who wants credit, who wants accolades, who wants awards,” he said. “I want to go to work. I said, ‘I’ll do this if you think it will help.’”
Walton said he sees the purpose of the new clubhouse as a place “to provide opportunity for other young people coming up, chasing their dreams” and a place to learn the principles of “honor, sacrifice and discipline.”
Walton concluded his comments with a nod to the honor bestowed on him.
“I was 6-foot-11-inches when I was 15 years old,” he said. “Now that I’m 65, I’ve finally made it to 7-feet tall.”
Ron Brady said he and his wife, Mary Alice Brady, were “honored and humbled” to see their namesake clubhouse finished.
“Tomorrow starts today and the future of this place lies ahead of us,” he said. “The kids that are coming here next month will have grandkids’ grandkids’ grandkids come in through here.”
“This is a really big deal. This is the biggest thing we’ll ever do in our lives,” Mary Brady said. “Now we’re going to give this building to the children of the community we hold dear; a safe environment where they can learn to share, work as a team, become leaders, be a positive part of the community. Now it’s all about the kids, our boys and girls.”
For more information about the Boys & Girls Clubs of East County and available programming at the new La Mesa facility, visit bgcec.org or call 619-440-1600.
—Reach Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.