Community center bets on Casino Night

The Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge hosts this Friday its annual Casino Night fundraiser, where it hopes to raise at least $10,000 toward maintaining programs and facilities.

The event is one of several that provide a lifeline for the center, which relies largely on fees, class tuition and fundraisers to satisfy a $980,000 annual operating budget. Deb Jordan, the center's executive director, admits a key to success is stretching each dollar as far as it will go.

"We're trying to spend money wisely," she said. "The board and I try to think what will give us the maximum amount of longevity," she said. "We think about it, we plot and we plan."

In the two years Jordan's been at the helm, she and staff members have made a host of small but smart improvements that net much more than they cost.

A coat of donated paint from Dunn-Edwards, for example, transformed a garish break-room kitchen into a space where cooking classes could be taught, while new carpet and furniture stain allowed the center to open its main office to visitors as needed.

"We want to get the word out that there are rooms people can rent," said Mike Leininger, vice president of the Center's board of directors. "As we like to say, we're one of the best kept secrets in La Cañada."

The money raised by rental fees and classes allows the Center to tackle bigger and more pressing needs, such as an $80,000 roof replacement last summer.

Recently, Jordan delivered a full list of facility improvements made since 2012 to the city of La Cañada Flintridge, which for decades has worked with CCLCF in a joint-use agreement.

The Community Center leases its buildings from the city for a nominal $1 annual fee, according to an agreement that also provides a $33,000 annual reimbursement for repairs and maintenance. The Center may also petition the city for as much as $25,000 in nonprofit grants each year to help pay for other projects and programs, Jordan explained.

Leininger called the partnership vital, because it maximizes the Center's efficiency. When the city learned AYSO and baseball teams using the city-owned fields next door were taxing the Center's resources, it installed locking doors between the facility's bathrooms and main building.

"Now we can actually lock up at night, and the restrooms are open to the public," Jordan said.

But with a budget nearing $1 million, the Community Center does what it can to make up the difference between that and what it gets from the city.

Last year, the Center's annual Thanksgiving Run brought in $52,000, while the Preschool's Western Roundup in March lassoed an additional $20,000, Jordan said. June and December ceramics sales help raise funds, although about 70% of those sales goes to participating artists.

On a recent tour of the Community Center's improvements with Leininger and Mayor Mike Davitt, Jordan showcased how funds are being used to make vital facility improvements.

Davitt, who recalled riding his bike to the Center when he was a kid, called the facility a critical component of the fabric of the community.

"The great thing is every time you hear something about it, it's always improving, always getting better," Davitt told Jordan during the tour. "You're doing a great job."

"We just want people to walk away and say, 'That was great, I can't wait to come back," Jordan replied.


Follow Sara Cardine on Twitter: @SaraCardine.


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