East County News Service
September 23, 2019 (La Mesa) – The Boys & Girls Clubs of East County (BGCEC) will host a one-year anniversary celebration for the Brady Family Clubhouse in La Mesa that houses the Eleni and Wolfgang Gagon Academy, a learning center and homework room, and the Bill Walton Gymnasium.
The celebration, to include speeches and refreshments, will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 3 at the Brady Family Clubhouse, 7600 Junior High Dr., La Mesa.
The one-year-old, 26,000-square-foot clubhouse is located past a sports field on the west end of La Mesa Arts Academy (LMAAC) and at the south end of Olive Avenue. RSVPs are requested. For more information, contact Samantha Olsen Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (619) 440-1600, ext. 313.
Dignitaries scheduled to attend and speak include Ron and Mary Alice Brady, owners of the Brady Companies, who have donated $3 million to BGCEC. The La Mesa-based Brady Companies specializes in metal stud framing, drywall installation, doors, frames, and acoustical ceilings. Also to be acknowledged at the Oct. 3 ceremony will be the estate of the late Eleni and Wolfgang Gagon of San Diego, also responsible for a $3 million donation.
“It’s truly been a tremendous year of changing lives,” said Ron Brady. “We’re so glad that the construction sounds of jack hammers, buzz saws and machinery have been replaced with the joyful sounds of children’s laughter, basketballs being dribbled on the court and friendships being made.”
Construction on the $7 million facility began in July 2017. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held Oct. 4, 2018. The Brady Family Clubhouse, opened later that same month, features a full-service kitchen, nutrition center, game rooms and a Little Rascals area for 6-to-7-year olds. It is the largest of the six BGCEC facilities in the East County.
In addition to Boys and Girls Clubs members, others who have enjoyed the clubhouse over the past year have been some of the 1,200 students who attend LMAAC, a public school for grades 4 through 8. LMAAC students have used the 10,000-square-foot gymnasium for physical education classes. Also using the gymnasium has been Helix High School basketball and volleyball players.
Youth soccer players from American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) Region 89, who practice and play games on the school’s grassy fields, also have benefited from a snack bar located in a 400-square-foot corner of the clubhouse.
“We’re so proud of the work of the Boys and Girls Clubs,” said Brady. “They’re providing a safe environment so children can grow up to be their best and learn importance of personal responsibility and accountability for their own lives. We decided to support the Boys and Girls Clubs because it’s better to build kids than try to mend adults.”
Brady’s $3 million donation included $1 million in 2012 to renovate the existing Brady Family Teen Center, located on the east end of LMAAC, as well as $2 million to help build the new Brady Family Clubhouse. Between the two youth centers, about 200 children a day, ages 6 to 18, attend after-school recreational activities and learning, BGCEC officials said.
The $3 million donation from the Gagon estate was motivated by the late couple’s strong belief in furthering education and academics in young people, according to family friend Beth LeFriant. “The Gagons were immigrants, educators and lifelong learners who pledged their philanthropy to educating young children,” LeFriant said. “They both overcame extreme hardships in their lives and that’s the lessons for these children. Life doesn’t always go your way. But you can survive it with hard work and a good education.”
Eleni and Wolfgang Gagon built a substantial real estate portfolio after investing in apartments and renovating properties in San Diego’s Golden Hill and Kensington communities in the 1970s and 1980s, according to LeFriant. A difficult childhood complicated by the pressures of World War II drove Eleni Bukuvalas and Wolfgang Gagon from their respective native countries to San Diego, where they met and were married in 1971. Wolfgang, originally from Germany, passed away at age 60 in 1997, and Eleni, originally from Greece, passed away at age 83, in 2012.
“This upcoming celebration is our opportunity to thank our many friends and supporters who have helped us make a difference in the lives of La Mesa’s children during the past year,” said Forrest Higgins, CEO of BGCEC. “Because of the collaboration and partnership in our community, we have been able to fulfill our mission to enable all young people, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, to reach their full potential as productive, caring and responsible citizens.”
Higgins added, “None of it would have been possible without a dedicated commitment and participation by our local community. The building of the Brady Family Clubhouse was a textbook example of community collaboration. I can’t emphasize enough how much the community’s support made a difference and played such an important role in building a new standalone clubhouse that will serve children for generations to come.”
Raw land for the new clubhouse was made available by the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District (LMSVSD). The City of La Mesa also lent its support to the BGCEC project with road improvements, including construction of a new roadway into the clubhouse from Olive Avenue and a driveway accessed by a church. City officials said about $2 million was spent from a state government Active Transportation Program (ATP) grant to install missing sidewalk segments along Olive Avenue, extend Junior High Drive and provide an entry road to the clubhouse.
County Supervisor Dianne Jacob also got involved by allocating $670,000 in public funds for the installation of energy-efficient solar panels and the gymnasium. Grants to BGCEC were provided over a two-year period from the county’s Neighborhood Reinvestment Program, which awards monies to public agencies or registered charities. Higgins said the savings in lower electricity bills from the solar panels has helped provide additional programming and services for children visiting the clubhouse.
“It’s been an honor to support efforts to strengthen families and expand youth activities that offer East County children more after-school options,” said Jacob. “I am thrilled to have been part of the partnerships that provided the community with this facility.”
“The new clubhouse has been a catalyst to help change the entire western La Mesa area,” said La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis, who also is a co-founder of LMAAC and the director of theatre arts at the school, as well as director of Peter Pan Jr. Theater and C. Hook Theater. “The impact on our youth has been significant.”
The capital campaign for the new Brady Family Clubhouse, launched in 2012, raised more than $9 million, which included donations from scores of local East County businesses and private individuals, said Higgins. Some of the monies were earmarked to fund an endowment to operate both the Brady Family Clubhouse and Brady Family Teen Center.
The capital campaign to build the Brady Family Clubhouse was BGCEC’s fourth successful fundraising effort in 12 years, said Higgins. In 2006, the Brady Family Teen Center opened, followed by the opening in 2007 of the Conrad Prebys Clubhouse in Santee. Then, in 2011, the Conrad Prebys Clubhouse Complex and Teen Center in El Cajon was remodeled.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of East County, a chartered member of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, has more than 2,000 members, ages 5 to 18, and operates six facilities, including: the Conrad Prebys Complex with the El Cajon Clubhouse, 1171 East Madison Ave., and El Cajon Teen Center, 1153 East Madison Ave.; Lakeside Clubhouse, 12824 Lakeshore Dr.; Brady Family Complex, 7600 Junior High Dr., La Mesa; Brady Family La Mesa Teen Center, 7775 Junior High Dr.; and, Conrad Prebys Santee Clubhouse, 8820 Tamberly Way.