Our Views: Boys & Girls Clubs of Stanislaus County already doing good

‘We just can’t keep talking about the problem,” said Lincoln Ellis, “we’ve got to be part of the solution.”

Ellis is the chief professional officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Stanislaus County, which celebrated their first year with a series of fundraising events Friday. The problem he was addressing is by now familiar to almost everyone – the growing gap between the academic achievement of our students and those almost everywhere else. When students fall behind, they become discouraged, lose interest, grow disengaged and some eventually drop out. Then come the real problems – unemployment, crime, drug use.

Tests have shown that only 39 percent of Stanislaus County third-graders can read at “grade level.” Why is that important? Because in third grade, students make a big switch – from learning to read to reading to learn. It’s a critical juncture, and education officials throughout the county are concerned.

Addressing such problems is an enormous task and requires many, many efforts. Fortunately, many people are trying to help. The Stanislaus Community Foundation recently convened a symposium to look at specifics, with attendance from educators, county officials and business people.

That last group is especially important. That was amply demonstrated Friday during three Boys & Girls Clubs fundraisers that generated at least $220,000 in donations – including gifts totaling $140,000 from Ocat Inc., which owns the area’s Taco Bell franchises, and the Taco Bell Foundation. Impressive.

Starting with a pilot project at two Sylvan schools, the Boys & Girls Clubs have provided mentoring, counseling and “youth development professionals” for nearly 400 students of all ages. Instead of putting money into buildings, the clubs opened school facilities early, closed up late and focused on connecting with kids. They got help with homework, had fun, got fed and were encouraged to stay engaged with academics. Most of the kids came from lower-income families and 80 percent of parents felt their child’s academic performance improved because of the club.

The club stressed drug and alcohol resistance, offered a “Smart Girls” program and a “Passport to Manhood” club for teen boys.

Reaching 400 young people is important, but it’s a small start. With the continued support of people such as past Chairman Dave Gianelli, current Chair Kenni Friedman and a host of directors, expect the impact to grow. The Boys & Girls Clubs are helping our area find solutions to some of our most troubling problems. It’s a worthy effort.

Getting deep into water details

Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies (yes, it’s pronounced “aqua”), visited with Stanislaus County Farm Bureau on Tuesday night to talk about, well, water. No surprise, his audience already had a sophisticated knowledge of the subject. But Quinn offered an insider’s view of the water bond negotiations, and said our valley legislators were key to working out a compromise that virtually every politician in the state supported. He singled out Sen. Anthony Cannella. “The bond has a very long list of people who can take credit, but Sen. Cannella was one of the two or three who were most influential.” Quinn pointed out the bond won’t have any impact on this terrible drought, but is utterly essential to dealing with water shortfalls in the next decade. He also promised to keep emphasizing the point that water used for irrigation is beneficial to far more people than the farmer who owns the field. It’s a point that others must come to understand.