The Beverly Wilshire Hotel was glistening on Thursday evening, as celebrities, media correspondents, and philanthropists flooded the doors of the grand ballroom to attend the annual Great Futures Gala supporting Boys & Girls Clubs of America. With over 4,000 locations across the United States, and multiple facilities right here in Los Angeles County – from Anaheim to Hollywood to San Pedro, Boys & Girls Clubs offer bright young people a place to play, learn, and grow in safe, warm environments that encourage personal health and development, community and citizenship, and academic achievement. It was no surprise that the annual event is called the Great Futures Gala; great futures are precisely what The Boys & Girls Club foster.
Guests were first greeted by the ever larger-than-life “Cleatus the Robot,” FOX Sports’ Transformer-like mascot. FOX Sports has been a longtime supporter of The Boys & Girls Club, as Eric Shanks, President, COO and Executive Producer of FOX Sports co-hosted the evening along with trustee Steve Mosko. FOX Sports also generously donated one of the major live auction gifts, a once in a lifetime chance to spend a day Up Close & Personal on set at FOX NFL Sunday. The gift was a major hit, along with the other big ticket item – a luxurious four night getaway at the Villa Vatu, on a private island in Fiji.
It was not the huge donations and lavish auction prizes that made the evening so special, however. It was the huge hearts of the Boys & Girls Club kids, aptly dubbed “Club Kids,” that made the big impact.
Introduced by emcee of the evening, actor/comedian Jay Mohr, the first Club Kids to take the stage were young teens from the Lyricism 101 program, Marquis Cotton, Robert Washington, Amauri Richardson, and Dalyn Small, who performed original rap songs they wrote to express themselves and their views, under the mentorship of hip-hop artists and entertainment professionals. Hailing from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, Wake County, and Metro Atlanta, respectively, these Club Kids rapped about the opportunities they’ve been given, the friendships they’ve made, and the values they’ve learned at the clubs. Rapping a cappella for heightened impact, Mr. Small rapped one lyric that particularly resonated with me, as a lyricist… He said that as teens raised with economic odds stacked against them, through a place like Boys & Girls Club, you can learn how to “beat your Goliath” and rise to new heights of success. For him, his “Goliath” was the circumstance into which he was born – but he has learned how hard work, a positive attitude, and personal goals can result in achievement. He received a standing ovation.
It was also moving to hear 2016 National Youth of the Year Jocelyn W. speak about how the Boys & Girls Club has impacted her life thus far. Now a college freshman, she recalled how her mentors gave her great academic motivation and encouragement throughout her middle school and high school years. Since being awarded with this highly esteemed honor, Jocelyn has developed great friendships with past award recipients and she is now on a mission to spread the message about how anyone can accomplish their goals with passion and diligence.
Another touching moment came when Mr. Mohr hosted his version of “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” He asked five young Club Kids a series of questions about what they want to be when they grow up, where they would like to travel one day, and who their personal heroes are. As Jay pointed out, the kids each have big dreams – they want to become doctors and animal rights advocates and travel the world. Nearly 4 million children and teenagers come through club doors every year, so it became clear how Boys & Girls Club kids have high hopes and unbridled aspirations to do great things in life.
Perhaps the best example of these aspirations coming to fruition, was keynote speaker, award-winning director/producer Justin Lin. With films grossing over $2 billion worldwide, like The Fast and Furious 3-6, Star Treck Beyond, and Better Luck Tomorrow, Mr. Lin is an entertainment powerhouse who attributes much of his character development to his time as a Club Kid. Recalling a basketball coach that mentored him and his brother at a Boys & Girls Club in Cypress, CA, Mr. Lin said that at seven years of age, he was given his first chance. It was just the chance to play basketball on a Boys & Girls Club team, but as a small boy – (he’s now only 5’6″ in height) – it was a huge opportunity. The offer to play basketball felt like an opportunity to grow, an opportunity to be part of something important, and an opportunity to shine. And thrive he did, shooting game winning points with a team that felt more like a family. Mr. Lim has since amassed an enormous amount of success, and to learn how it all began for him as just a seven year old boy at Boys & Girls Club, was to understand the lasting impact Boys & Girls Clubs have on impressionable youths.
For more than 150 years, The Boys & Girls Club has made this kind of impact on children and teens nationwide. The growth happens during after-school hours when parents are busy at work, schools are out of session, and many children have no place to go. Gala co-chair Steve Mosko expressed that his children asked to spend time at Boys & Girls Club after school when he was tied up late at work, newly divorced, and could not pick them up after school. There, they had friendships, academic support, team building activities and recreational sports to enjoy, and a creative outlet. In a recent survey of Boys & Girls Club alumni, a stunning 54% said that the club saved their lives. It is not a place where children have to go – it’s a place where children want to go… a place where the foundations for Great Futures are built.