After four years of fund-raising and false starts, the Fillmore-Piru Boys & Girls Club opened Monday, bolstering hopes that the center will keep youths out of gangs by giving them a place to go after school.
“We’re not going to be able to stop every problem all at once, but this is an important piece of the puzzle,” said Sheriff’s Lt. Dick Purnell, a club director. “The best way to keep kids out of gangs is to get them into a program like this.”
About 20 children descended on the facility on Shiells Drive in Fillmore after school Monday to play Ping-Pong, air hockey and Foosball while their parents filled out applications and paid the club’s $12 annual membership fee.
“I’m here for the basketball,” said Albert Quiroz, 12. “The rims at the park are cracked and they don’t have nets.”
In the coming months, club organizers say they will have an employment service, a basketball court and other sports and club-sponsored activities.
“There are so many kids who hang out in the streets or go home to an empty house every day,” said City Councilwoman Linda Brewster, president of the Fillmore Youth Task Force. “This club will give them a place where they can be with their peers in a positive environment.”
About 200 of Fillmore’s estimated 5,000 youths are gang members or associates of gang members, Purnell said.
“With lots of these kids, there’s been a cultural breakdown and they can’t connect with each other,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Max Pina, the club’s president. “Here they have a chance to talk and interact rather than spending their spare time in the streets.”
Five-year-old Shawntel Simerly showed off her newly laminated gold membership card, pointing to the large No. 1 in the upper left-hand corner. “I was the first one here.”
Diane Simerly, one of three staff members at the club, brought her daughter in early to help lay out magazines, scissors and paste on a table.
Simerly runs the club’s arts and crafts program, leading classes in beading, painting and woodworking.
“Whatever the kids want, we’ll try to do,” she said. “The whole point is to make it interesting for them.”
Parent Kathy LeBard heard about the club from her 10-year-old son, Mike. “He had karate classes at the club in Santa Paula, so he was excited about this,” she said.
The LeBards live about a mile from the club, close enough for Mike to ride his bike there after school, LeBard said.
Transportation is one of the problems that the Santa Paula club--previously the only one in the Santa Clara Valley--has faced when trying to attract new members.
“We’ve been trying to get the money to buy a van for years,” said Dave Blevins, executive director of both clubs. But the Fillmore club is situated close to several schools, he said.
As kids gathered at the club Monday, whistles and shouts from football practice at nearby Fillmore High School drifted into the squat one-story building.
Program director Kathleen Hillman welcomed the new members and laid down some club rules:
“OK everybody,” she said loudly, “This is a club, not a zoo. As long as there’s no smashing Ping-Pong balls and no one behind the counter, you are welcome to use everything here.”
She gestured toward two partitioned areas, one containing a television and chairs and the other a library.
The small library area was equipped with a table, blackboard and bookshelf that held a thin stack of children’s volumes, a copy of the U.S. and California constitutions and “Confederacy of the Dead--Original Civil War Stories by Masters of Fantasy and Horror.”
“We’re just getting started,” Hillman explained. “We’re trying to get more books now.”
The club is compiling a wish list, Hillman said, which will include sports equipment and pumpkins for Halloween carving.
To open the club, community leaders raised $50,000 from local charities and residents and qualified for $50,000 more in federal funds controlled by the City Council.
In preparation for the opening, the group spent about $1,000 patching holes, repairing pipes and painting the club’s interlocking hands logo on the building.
The club is scheduled to be open from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.