What Boys & Girls Club alumni have said:
80% said Club staff helped them learn right from wrong
95% indicated the Club was the best thing available in their community
52% said participating in the Club “saved my life.”
History of the Organization
By Melissa St. Aude, Staff Writer, Pinal Central
Like the children in its programs, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sun Corridor organization has grown and evolved over the past two and a half decades.
What started in the 1990s as a group of concerned Casa Grande residents wanting to provide safe programming for area kids, the youth development organization has grown to include eight branches in Casa Grande, Arizona City and Maricopa.
Pre-1998 — A group of residents, including Michael Jackson, owner of BeDillon’s Restaurant, and the late Bill Bridwell formed a committee with several others to look at ways to keep area children safe and supervised after school.
“We knew we needed something for the kids in the area,” Jackson said.
The residents settled on the idea of opening a Boys & Girls Club chapter, tapping into the resources and expertise offered through the national organization, Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
“Kids need direction and at the time, there wasn’t anything provided for them. They didn’t have anything like that. Boys & Girls Clubs have had successful programs for many years. They know what works and we wanted to bring those programs to Casa Grande,” Jackson said. “We knew that with a Boys & Girls Club chapter, we could tap into the resources provided from a huge international group.”
The organizers enlisted the help of many city leaders and approached the Casa Grande City Council with a request for support.
“It started just as a concept that we introduced to the city and they were
cooperative. It wasn’t a hard sell. They knew the kids needed something like the Boys & Girls Club and with us focusing on getting the club started, the city could focus on other things,” Jackson said.
1998 — The Boys & Girls Club of Casa Grande was formed, opening its doors as an after-school program at Saguaro Elementary School. Hal Hansen was hired as the first director.
Jackson was among the people on hand as the first group of children walked through the doors on day one.
“We had maybe 30 or 40 kids that first year,” Jackson said. “Just seeing how many kids showed up when we opened and seeing their smiling faces, we knew we did something right.”
Having a place for kids to be safe and busy after school had a big impact on the community, he said.
“At the time, there weren’t a lot of alternatives for kids to go after school,” Jackson said. “When kids have a club to belong to, that’s pretty neat. Pretty soon, the club members were bringing other kids and membership grew.
All six of my kids eventually became members at the Boys & Girls Club.”
The youth development organization began talking about entering into a lease agreement to open a new, larger site in the former high school gymnasium on Picacho Avenue, which is owned by the city of Casa Grande.
1999 — The one-year-old Boys & Girls Club of the Casa Grande Valley moved to 798 N. Picacho Ave., a city-owned facility that had once been the high school gymnasium.
“The Casa Grande City Council approved an increase in the local sales tax ‘accommodations’ category and allocated a sizable portion of these funds to the program, as well as entered into a lease agreement for the use of the facility,” said Casa Grande City Manager Larry Rains. “The funding and facility allowed the club to increase its membership.”
With the new lease and funding from the city, the partnership between Casa Grande and the youth development organization “resulted in the relationship being recognized as a partnership,” Rains said.
Once the club was settled into its new, larger home, the Casa Grande Elementary School District began busing children to the Picacho Avenue facility after school.
The Picacho Avenue facility included an art room, computer lab, game room, gymnasium
and learning center and offered drug and alcohol prevention programs, an internet safety course, homework help, mentoring and other programs.
As the organization began to grow, the Picacho Avenue facility became known as its “Main Branch.”
2002 — The partnership between Casa Grande and the Boys & Girls Club of Casa Grande Valley strengthened when the youth development organization agreed to run the city’s youth soccer program — an arrangement that would endure for nearly 20 years.
The soccer program introduced thousands of area children to soccer. Each year, hundreds of kids would enroll in the program, which included dozens of teams of varying ages, from 5 to 14.
Through its club programming and soccer, the youth organization reached more than 1,000 children that year.
“I joined the executive board for the Boys & Girls Club in the early 2000s because I believed in what they were doing,” said Casa Grande resident and owner of Arizona New
Horizon Realty Paula Lambert. “They had only one club at the time, but it was very exciting because they were starting to grow.”
The club, its members, staff and board were a close-knit community, she said.
“We’d have a Thanksgiving meal every year for the club,” Lambert said. “Michael Jackson would prepare the turkeys at BeDillon’s and we’d all gather together with the member families at the club on Picacho Avenue.”
2004 — A new after-school site opened at Arizona City Elementary School.
Lambert was among the board members talking with Arizona City residents, businesses and others to form an auxiliary board to open the new facility.
“It was quite rewarding to see kids walk in for the first time and very exciting,” she said. “I feel very honored to have watched the club evolve over the years.”
The program offered three national programs at the new branch — Power Hour, a supervised homework time; NetSmartz, which taught children about internet safety; and Club ZOOM, which engaged children in hands-on science experiments.
By the end of its first year, the Arizona City Branch had more than 116 children registered and averaged between 75 and 80 children attending every day.
2005 — Matthew Lemberg was named as the new executive director, replacing Hansen, who went on to work for another club in the Phoenix area.
At the time, more than 2,100 children were participating in various club programs, which included youth soccer and after-school programs in Casa Grande and Arizona City.
“I was on the board when we hired Matt and it was one of the best moves the board made,” Lambert said. “He was the right choice and his love of community is evident. His leadership is the reason we have been able to expand over the years.”
Lemberg had been on staff with the club since 2003, serving as the youth sports director. He’d recently earned a master’s degree in business administration from Northern Arizona University.
“I lobbied to hire Matt for the executive director role,” Jackson said. “I knew his dad and I knew that like his dad, Matt was committed to the community. And he’s done a great job.”
2006 — A third site opened at Ironwood School, offering after-school programming
for more children. The new site was modeled after the Arizona City program and served students from Ironwood, Cholla and Desert Willow elementary schools as well as Cactus Middle School.
“When ironwood opened, a few of the other schools started approaching us also wanting a branch at their school,” said Rueben Garcia, who served on the executive board for 15 years, from 2003 to 2018. “At the time, we couldn’t grow fast enough but there was a money issue in opening new branches. Our growth had to be done in a way that we could sustain the organization and not fail. We wanted to make sure we were there long-term providing for the kids, so we had to be patient and careful.”
2007 — The club served more than 3,600 children. In July 2007, the organization changed its name to “Boys & Girls Clubs of the Casa Grande Valley” to reflect that it had grown to include a wider area.
2012 — The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Casa Grande Valley celebrated its 15-year anniversary.
Board member, Garcia, was recognized with a national W. Clement Stone award for outstanding service on a local Boys & Girls Club board.
Garcia served for many years on the Arizona Area Council, a state board that oversees Boys & Girls Clubs.
His participation on the council included lobbying for the Casa Grande chapter and visiting other clubs to train new board members.
“The Casa Grande branch was a model for some of these other sites in Bisbee, Sierra Vista and other rural areas,” he said. “We were always on top compared to others. A few of
them attempted to follow the model set by Casa Grande but money is always an issue, so they were limited. In my tenure, our chapter in Casa Grande was recognized nationally several times.”
2015 — The fourth site opened at McCartney Ranch Elementary School, offering after-school programs for students from McCartney Ranch and Desert Willow
elementary schools and Villago Middle School. Like the other three, the new club focused on the Boys & Girls Clubs’ five-part focus areas of leadership development, recreation, health, education and the arts.
The 2015 soccer season was its 14th, with more than 720 kids participating on 60 teams.
2016 — In an effort to provide programming for teens, the Boys & Girls Clubs opened its newest club, The Lounge, in the Vista Grande Library, offering a place for high school students to take part in after-school activities.
And as the city of Casa Grande embarked on plans to build a new community recreation center on Peart Road, it turned to the Boys & Girls Clubs with a plan to lease part of the new facility to the organization as a larger, more modern main branch.
2019 — The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Casa Grande Valley moved its main branch to a spacious, multiroom section of the newly constructed Casa Grande Community Recreation Center on Peart Road.
To help the organization, area resident Nap Lawrence donated $500,000, the largest single gift it had ever received. In a Pinal Central article, Lemberg described the donation as a “transformational gift.”
In honor of the donation, the Main Branch section of the center was named the “Nap Lawrence Chapter” of the Boys & Girls Clubs.
Garcia helped secure the donation for the club.
“I was the one who approached him about the donation,” Garcia said. “The donation not only helped the new location to open, but because it’s an endowment fund, it will grow every year and ensure the club will be around for a long time.”
2020 — The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Casa Grande Valley changed its name to “Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sun Corridor” to be more inclusive to the communities and children it served.
When the pandemic hit, the clubs were closed but the Nap Lawrence Branch later opened to serve the families of first responders.
Despite the pandemic, the organization’s newest club later opened in Maricopa, the Santa Cruz Branch, after years of planning. The first year, the club had 80 students registered.
2021 — The second Maricopa branch opened in Saddleback Elementary School.
In a “swap,” the Boys & Girls Clubs turned over the long-running youth soccer program to the city of Casa Grande to run as a municipal program while the nonprofit youth organization took possession of the city-owned Len Colla Recreation Center. Renovations began on what would become the latest branch.
2022 — After months of providing programming at Palo Verde Elementary School while renovations at Len Colla Center were finished, the latest Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sun Corridor branch opened.
The club’s growth over the years has benefited the city of Casa Grande, Rains said.
“The overall benefit to the community is an expansion in programming and services.
When entities are focused on specific services, it allows each to allocate more attention,
time and resources into goals, objectives and initiatives, essentially resulting in higher-quality programming,” he said.
With the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sun Corridor as a partner, the city’s programming for children was increased, he said.
“When you consider the youth, programming provided by both the Boys & Girls Clubs and the city to our community, you will find that collectively, both entities offer a number of programs and services that support social, emotional, cognitive and academic development, as well as promoting physical health for children and youth of our community,” Rains said.
The new arrangement strengthened the relationship between the organization and the municipality.
“While most of the community is likely unaware of the relationship that has been forged between the two entities, the city truly values the partnership that we have with the club. Collectively, we have been successful at growing both the community and club, and I have personally valued the fact that we have been able to do so through shared interests in focusing on the youth. Programs focused on positive youth development contribute to self, family and community, which all leads to ‘Building a Better Community,’” Rains said.
Present — The Boys & Girls Clubs operates eight clubs:
Arizona City Branch, at Arizona City Elementary School, 12115 W. Benito Drive, offering after-school programming.
Ironwood Branch, at Ironwood Elementary School, 1500 N. Colorado St., offering after- school programing.
McCartney Ranch Branch, at McCartney Ranch Elementary School, 2631 N. Brown Ave., offering after-school programming.
Nap Lawrence Branch, in the Casa Grande Community Recreation Center, 1905 N. Peart Road, offering after-school and all-day summer programming.
Len Colla Recreation Center branch, offering after-school and all-day summer programming.
The Lounge for teens, in the Vista Grande Library, 1556 N. Arizola Road, providing after- school programming.
Santa Cruz Branch, at Santa Cruz Elementary School, 19845 N. Costa Del Sol Blvd., providing after-school and summer programming in Maricopa.
Saddleback Branch, at Saddleback Elementary School, 18600 N. Porter Road, Maricopa.
“I think everything we did along the way was a major accomplishment,” Garcia said. “Back in the 1990s, when people started talking about starting a Boys & Girls Club, it seemed impossible for a long time. Then a group of business people got it going. I came along five years later and think the growth has been incredible. And everyone involved — the board and the staff — are all there for the kids. I’m just so proud of everyone who is involved.”
Rains said the city’s partnership with the youth organization is a “staple for the community.”
“Thousands of our residents have participated and been members of the club. When an organization has existed for the number of years in which the Casa Grande club has, the benefits become generational. The friendly and efficient services the club has provided have been a vital component of the growth of Casa Grande. One does not have to go far to find positive word-of-mouth referrals from community members,” Rains said.