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San Ysidro Boys’ Club Struggles to Avoid Bankruptcy

Times Staff Writer

Reports of the demise of the San Ysidro Boys’ Club have been greatly exaggerated, its executive director said Friday. But the bank balance of the South Bay youth club says differently.

The club, which once boasted hundreds of youngsters at its daily schedule of events, is down to 30 or 40 a day. Richard Dellamaestra blames his club’s dramatic drop in attendance on lack of staff. He blames the lack of staff on lack of money, and the lack of money on the withdrawal of funding by United Way.

Ironically, United Way officials say the funding for the San Ysidro club was withdrawn because of the dramatic drop in attendance at the club. Jim Greene, executive director of United Way, said that the fund-raising agency has pledged to contribute the $57,000 a year that previously went to the San Ysidro Boys’ Club to some other organization that will provide youth programs for the San Ysidro area.

Dellamaestra admits that the Boys’ Club is having financial problems. There’s a $680 utility bill due within days and not enough money in the bank to pay for it. There’s no money for salaries or supplies--no money for anything, he said.

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The final financial straw that broke Dellamaestra’s spirit was the announcement in a South Bay newspaper in July that the club was about to close. That story cut off the last source of income the South Bay Boys’ Club had--its Wednesday night bingo games, which, until recently, brought in $400 to $500 a week.

“Last Wednesday, nobody came. We ended up going $17 in the hole,” Dellamaestra said. “Even my mother didn’t come. She and everybody else thought the bingo was canceled.”

Actually, Dellamaestra said, “we would continue the bingo games even if the club were forced to close temporarily.”

The vicious circle that has forced the Boys’ Club to the brink of bankruptcy could be broken if Dellamaestra and the club’s board of directors could “demonstrate that a well-rounded program was being offered and attendance was up,” United Way officials said. Dellamaestra counters by asking how the club can do that without funds to pay salaries.

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Dellamaestra has tried, with little success, to bring in private donations from San Ysidro citizens and businesses. The reason for his failure, he said, is obvious to anyone who has been to the community in recent years.

“We’ve been hit by one blow after another down here. We have 30% unemployment. Our shopping center is 70% vacant. The main street is nothing but money changers. The peso devaluation hit us hard. Nobody has the money to give to the Boys’ Club or anything else,” he said.

The San Ysidro Boys’ Club board of directors voted recently to approach the Boys’ Club of Chula Vista to discuss a merger and a possible solution to its money problems.

Dennis Young, executive director of the Chula Vista club, said his board was very receptive to the idea but faces the same problem as San Ysidro--no money to operate new programs unless United Way funds are forthcoming.

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“We’re doing much better than they (San Ysidro) are in attendance, and we are going to open a club not more than two miles from their clubhouse,” Young said. But despite the prospect of acquiring the San Ysidro building and land and adding South San Diego to its territory, Young said, “we don’t have the money for day-to-day operation of the facility any more than San Ysidro has.”

San Diego Boys’ Clubs Executive Director John Treiber also said the four-branch organization is interested in merging with the San Ysidro club if, and only if, operating funds can be found to revitalize the San Ysidro program.

Treiber pointed out that San Diego’s Boys’ Clubs were fighting the same problems, to a lesser degree, as was San Ysidro. Money woes, including a liability insurance bill that jumped from $19,000 to $82,000 in a year’s time, “aren’t the kind of problems that inspire people to donate to fund-raising programs,” he pointed out.

Treiber acknowledged that there has been a trend toward club mergers throughout the country and locally, partly because it is easier for larger units of several clubs to survive financially. United Way has encouraged the merger trend, Treiber said, “and logically so, because I am sure they would much rather deal with one single umbrella agency rather than a dozen or so.”

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At present, United Way in San Diego County is funding 15 individual Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs to the tune of $1,209,995 a year.

On Monday, regional Boys’ Club of America officials will visit San Diego to huddle with local Boys’ Club executives on San Ysidro’s dilemma, among other things. The fate of the club, local directors predict, will be to merge with the San Diego Boys’ Clubs.

To Dellamaestra, such a solution would be no solution at all.

“I feel that the club would be swallowed up and treated like a stepchild (by San Diego) just like San Diego treats San Ysidro,” said Dellamaestra, who has run the San Ysidro Boys’ Club for 17 years. The South San Diego club, he predicted, “would continue to get just the crumbs.”

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