The Boys and Girls Clubs of East County (BGCEC) has scheduled a ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the end of 14 months of construction for its new Brady Family Clubhouse in La Mesa that houses the Gagon Academy, a learning center and homework room, and the Bill Walton Gymnasium.
The ribbon cutting will begin at 9 a.m., Thursday, Oct. 4, at the new Brady Family Clubhouse, 7600 Junior High Dr., La Mesa. The new 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.
Cutting the ceremonial ribbon will be: Ron and Mary Alice Brady, owners of the Brady Companies, who have donated $3 million to BGCEC; Beth LeFriant, banker and acquaintance of the estate of the late Eleni and Wolfgang Gagon of San Diego, also responsible for a $3 million donation; Forrest Higgins, CEO of BGCEC.
Following the ribbon cutting, attendees will be invited to follow the 6-foot-11-inch Bill Walton, former NBA professional basketball player, into the new 10,000-square-foot Bill Walton Gymnasium. It will be the first time Walton, a La Mesa native, has seen the gymnasium in person. Walton also has told BGCEC officials it’s the first time a gymnasium has been named in his honor.
Once inside the gymnasium, BGCEC said a brief program will be held. Speakers are expected to include Ron Brady, Beth LeFriant, Bill Walton, Forrest Higgins,, San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis and other dignitaries. Also, refreshments will be served.
Construction on the $7 million facility began in July 2017.
“I’m very proud to hear about how smooth the construction has gone over the past year and the coordination between the many community entities has been outstanding,” said Ron Brady, namesake of a La Mesa-based construction company specializing in metal stud framing, drywall installation, doors, frames, and acoustical ceilings.
“Very soon, the construction sounds of jack hammers, buzz saws and machinery will be replaced with the joyful sounds of children’s laughter, basketballs being dribbled on the court and friendships being made. We’re so proud of the work of the Boys and Girls Clubs. 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, will attend for 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.
The capital campaign for the new Brady Family Clubhouse, launched in 2012, has raised about $9.4 million, which has included donations from scores of local East County businesses and private individuals, said Higgins. Some of the monies have been earmarked to fund an endowment to operate both the Brady Family Clubhouse and Brady Family Teen Center.
Opening day for the new Brady Family Clubhouse, largest of the six BGCEC facilities in the East County, is expected in mid-October. The clubhouse also will feature a full-service kitchen, nutrition center, game rooms and a Little Rascals area for 6-to-7-year olds. Other youngsters planning to enjoy the new clubhouse will be some of the 1,200 students attending LMAAC, a public school for grades 4-through-8. Students are expected to use the gymnasium for physical education classes. Youth soccer players from American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) Region 89, who practice and play games on the school’s grassy fields, also will benefit from a snack bar located in a 400-square-foot corner of the clubhouse.
“Our dream will soon become a reality, but none of it would have been possible without a dedicated commitment and participation by our local community,” said Higgins, CEO of BGCEC. “The building of the Brady Family Clubhouse is a textbook example of community collaboration. I can’t emphasize enough how much the community’s support has 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). “In our era of limited resources, the Boys and Girls Clubs’ new Brady Family Clubhouse is a terrific example of community partners working together to serve our local neighborhood,” said LMSVSD Superintendent Brian Marshall. “We had the land, but no capital, while they had the capital, but no land. So, it’s a win-win for everyone.”
The City of La Mesa also lent its support to the BGCEC project with road improvements, including construction of a new entryway 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. 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 will help provide additional programming and services for children visiting the clubhouse.
“It’s an honor to support efforts that strengthen families and expand youth activities that give East County children more after-school options,” said Jacob. “I am thrilled to be part of the partnerships that have given the community this new facility.”
“The new clubhouse will be 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. “When the doors open on the first day, the impact on our youth will be tremendous and immediate.”
The capital campaign to build the Brady Family Clubhouse has been 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.
“Thanks to 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 said.
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 five 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 La Mesa Teen Center, 7775 Junior High Dr.; and, Conrad Prebys Santee Clubhouse, 8820 Tamberly Way.