Ramona Boys & Girls Club grows from a vision to a bustling youth center over three decades

The Ramona Boys & Girls Club branch has come a long way since it was a wish-list dream over 30 years ago.

In 1990, community members began to talk about finding a safe place for children to play and learn after school and during the summer. Kiwanis Club of Ramona mobilized volunteers and organized fundraisers to make it happen.

Ramona resident Larry Jones was the Kiwanis’ first steering committee president, and helped to file incorporation papers in 1990. It took four years for what is now known as Conrad Prebys Ramona Branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater San Diego to open in 1994 .

“When the club first opened up at a small facility I remember a grandmother and grandfather expressing gratitude because it really benefited their grandson,” recalled Jones, 69, a financial consultant with Retirement Benefits Group.

“There was a great need there. There was a vacuum to be filled. There were no bowling alleys, no skate parks, no place really for the kids to hang out. There wasn’t much out here for the kids unless they played team sports. Kids didn’t have a place to go.”

Now, the club is a well-established youth center at Collier County Park that offers a variety of educational and recreational activities.

“This is a positive place for kids,” Jones said. “It teaches them a lot. It teaches them to be responsible citizens, which I think is very important.”

The Ramona Boys & Girls Club was popular from the start. June 23, 1994 Ramona Sentinel editorial titled “A real success story” said the club had about 800 members ages 6 to 18 years old. On any day, 70 to 120 youngsters were using the club, the article stated.

A rendering of the Ramona Boys & Girls Club shows the early vision for an active youth center.

(Courtesy Larry Jones)

The figures align with today’s tally.

Branch Manager Simone McCune said pre-COVID the club served about 1,000 children each year with sports leagues, after-school care and day camps. Since reopening after a pandemic closure in August 2021, the club has been rebuilding. Currently, 85 youths ages 5 to 13 are in the after-school program, she said. With restrictions continuing to loosen and sports resuming, the club expects to be back to its previous numbers by the end of 2022, she said.

“Our activities focus on three priority outcomes: academic success, character development and healthy lifestyles,” McCune said in an email.

Offerings include arts and crafts, active outdoor games, indoor tournament-style games, a book club and cooking club, homework time, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) activities. The club also offers a weekly field trip and Day Camps that focus on weekly themes such as Pirate Week, Superhero Week and Game Show Week.

Early planners couldn’t have known how the club would blossom, but they were dedicated to their vision.

Jones said he launched the effort by contacting Boys & Girls Clubs of America, which had a corporate office in Hollywood at the time. They offered guidance and suggested a demographic study of boys and girls in Ramona to gauge whether there would be enough youths and financial backing to support a club.

“That was the early start,” said Jones, who went on to lead the steering committee the Kiwanis formed. “I was trying to get it going. I didn’t know they were going to elect me president. I took it seriously.”

Ramona resident Larry Jones was president of a Kiwanis Club of Ramona committee that led the charge for a Boys & Girls Club.

Ramona resident Larry Jones was president of a Kiwanis Club of Ramona committee that led the charge for a Boys & Girls Club.

(Courtesy Larry Jones)

The Kiwanis committee’s first Boys & Girls Club fundraiser was led by famed softball pitcher Eddie Feigner, Jones said. The fundraiser generated about $2,500 and was the starting point for a series of fundraisers to pay the salary of an executive director and have a Boys & Girls Club branch built.

One of the bigger fundraisers was a golf tournament at San Vicente Golf Resort that was expected to net the club $15,000 to $20,000, according to a past news article. Funds were also raised at a golf tournament at Mt. Woodson Country Club and at a Casino Night at Mt. Woodson Castle. Prominent Ramona citizens were also asked to contribute $1,000 to $5,000.

At one point, the club account had accumulated roughly $70,000. Another key source of income was generated through a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) that Jones said was achieved with help from former county Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

Eventually enough money was raised to open a temporary Boys & Girls Club near Montecito High School on Ninth Street and Ramona Elementary School on Eighth Street. The group hoped to build a larger club at Collier County Park on E Street, Jones said.

“When Dianne Jacob got involved and helped get the Community Development Block Grant that was a significant boost to get a facility built,” he said. “Collier Park was falling on hard times in that day. It was not very well kept and had been neglected, but we thought it was an excellent site. Today it doesn’t look anything like it used to. It looks much better. We resurrected Collier Park.”

The Ramona Boys & Girls Club offers a variety of arts and crafts activities, indoor and outdoor games, and educational clubs.

The Ramona Boys & Girls Club offers a variety of arts and crafts activities, indoor and outdoor games, and educational clubs.

(Courtesy Simone McCune)

A milestone was achieved in 1993 when a Boys & Girls Clubs of America letter dated July 21 of that year announced the Boys & Girls Club of Ramona had been accepted into the membership of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. That membership made them eligible to apply for certification for government surplus property.

In summer 1994, a Boys & Girls Club of Ramona newsletter reported the campaign to raise money for a permanent facility in Collier Park had reached $250,000 of the needed $400,000.

On Nov. 9, 1995 at Sentinel article featured a photograph of an official groundbreaking for the new Boys & Girls Club of Ramona in Collier Park. Jones and Jacob were in the middle of the photo flanked by the first Ramona Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Jeff Miller, club Facilities Director Judy Endeman, and then-county Parks Recreation Department Director Robert Copper and Ramona sheriff’s Lt. Linda Barnett.

In the early days, activities ranged from a hot dog-eating contest to a Wild and Wacky Kids Day. Each child paid $10 a year to belong to the club — the actual cost of having each child participate in club activities was $250 a year, according to a Sentinel editorial, which added that the difference came from community donations and corporate grants.

“Anyone doubting the difference the club is making in the lives of the youngsters who frequent it need only visit,” the editorial stated. “The sheer joy on the faces of those participating in the sack races and other activities at the club’s first birthday party says it all.”

Today the club charges a $60 annual membership plus a monthly after-school fee of $5 per day for school days in the month, McCune said. Day Camp is $175 per week, she said.

The Ramona club is rebuilding after a temporary COVID closure and expects to serve roughly 1,000 children by the end of 2022.

The Ramona club is rebuilding after a temporary COVID closure and expects to serve roughly 1,000 children by the end of 2022.

(Courtesy Simone McCune)

Over the years the branch has grown significantly. Early on, the club organized a successful youth basketball program, said Danny Sherlock, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater San Diego. In 2000, the Ramona club merged with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Inland North County. In 2002, the organization merged with a San Diego-based organization and became Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater San Diego.

Sherlock said the Ramona branch built a soccer arena adjacent to its clubhouse in 2011. Four years later, longtime San Diego-based property developer and philanthropist Conrad Prebys donated $1 million and the county Board of Supervisors gave the organization permission to rename the facility the Conrad Prebys Ramona Branch, Sherlock said. In 2017, a new wing was built with funds donated by Prebys that included a multi-purpose room, kitchen, storage and restrooms to serve soccer arena patrons, Sherlock said.

“More space allows us to vary our activities and also serve more children,” McCune said. “Having a full kitchen enables us to do cooking projects and prepare healthy snacks. The large multipurpose room is used as a cafeteria and space for large group activities.”

Jones said it’s been fun for him to watch how the club has grown over the years.

“It’s rewarding,” he said. “Not everybody can make the (organized sports) teams, but it’s still nice to be able to participate. The club teaches them how to play together and compete together and be good sports.”

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