Local Boys & Girls Club completes merger with Santa Ana club


Members of the Boys & Girls Club of the Harbor Area embrace at its Lou Yantorn branch in Costa Mesa. The branch, along with locations in Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Irvine, are now part of the new Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast following the merger of the Harbor Area club and the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana.

(Courtesy of Challenge Roddie)

The long-in-the-works merger of the Boys & Girls Club of the Harbor Area and the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana is a done deal, with the two nonprofits fusing their resources, facilities and experience into a regional force with footholds in Costa Mesa, Irvine, Newport Beach, Orange and Santa Ana.

The umbrella entity, dubbed the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast, was officially unveiled Tuesday during the Santa Ana club’s annual leadership breakfast at the Newport Beach Marriott hotel.

“Today as we launch our new club, I can’t help but think about the thousands and thousands of kids that are depending on us,” said Robert Santana, chief executive of the Santa Ana club who also will helm the merged organization. “They’re depending on us to be their mentors. They’re depending on us to be their role models. They’re depending on us to be there when they struggle.”

The new main gym at the Lou Yantorn Branch of the girls and boys club in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Don Leach | Daily Pilot)

The result of the merger will be an institution with the “infrastructure, the strength and the expertise of a regional nonprofit, with the focus, the passion and the accessibility of a local organization,” Santana said at Tuesday’s breakfast.

The Harbor Area club has four branches — two in Costa Mesa and one each in Newport Beach and Irvine. It was founded in 1941, making it the oldest operating boys and girls club in Orange County.

The Santa Ana club was established in 1954 and has sites throughout the Santa Ana Unified School District. Its operations are centered at its flagship facility, the Joe MacPherson Center for Opportunity.

A mentor with the Boys & Girls Club of the Harbor Area shows a robot to club members in Newport Beach. The Harbor Area club, which also includes branches in Costa Mesa and Irvine, has merged with the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana to form the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast.
(Courtesy of Challenge Roddie )


The merger, along with a planned expansion of the Santa Ana club’s College Bound program into the city of Orange, will create a regional network able to provide services for children ages 6 to 12 at 50 locations and for teenagers at 13 sites.

The two clubs talked about a possible merger for months, and their boards voted earlier this year to officially pursue a union, said Gary McArdell, a Harbor Area board member.

Though joining forces has benefits from a business standpoint — less administrative overhead, for instance — McArdell said Tuesday that the motivation was simple: “Reach more kids in an effective way.”

“We need to make sure that we’re moving our clubs forward and our vision forward,” he said. “And we felt the best way to do that was to combine and have that greater impact.”

While some of the Santa Ana club’s offerings will likely be exported to the other branches, such as the Early Literacy Intervention and College Bound programs, the goal isn’t to make the Harbor Area clubs a carbon copy of what’s in Santa Ana, Santana said.

Instead, he said, the focus will be on augmenting existing strengths and building up programming while identifying ways to upgrade facilities to provide needed space and services.

The entryway, carpet, paint, and game tables at the newly refurbished clubhouse at the Lou Yantorn Branch of the girls and boys club in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Don Leach | Daily Pilot)

Public input and outreach will be key components of that effort, he said.


“This is a true merger,” Santana said. “This is us looking at collective impact. This is us looking at all the talent and all the resources we have and pointing it in one direction under one vision.”

McArdell said keeping the identity of the different clubs intact is vital as well.

“It’s extremely important because we’re really a local organization on a micro level,” he said. “The kids that come to the clubs, the parents that bring their children to the clubs, identify with each individual site.”

The unified club will have about 125 employees and a budget exceeding $4 million.

One of the first orders of business is renovation work in Harbor Area branches.

The interior of the Lou Yantorn branch in Eastside Costa Mesa has been repainted, Santana noted during a tour of the facility following Tuesday’s breakfast. New carpet has been installed and new furniture put in place.

The venue’s old gym will be repurposed into a space for teenagers.

But Santana said that work pales in comparison with what will eventually be done to modernize and upgrade the Harbor Area branches.


Santana and McArdell said a capital campaign is planned to raise money for those efforts but that it’s too soon to say what form the campaign will take.

“We should always be evolving to the needs of kids; we should always be evolving our approach,” Santana said. “What’s exciting to me is our commitment to being a 21st century Boys & Girls Club, because what that means is it’s not a destination, it’s a journey.”

Twitter: @LukeMMoney