Boys and Girls Clubs members gain educational empowerment, buy gifts for families
Story and Photos by Andrea Papagianis
Christmas is just around the corner, and for some Boys & Girls Clubs members, gifts are filling up vacant spaces underneath their holiday trees, thanks to their hard work outside the classroom.
Kimberly Olvera, 10, a fifth-grader at Kinoshita Elementary School wasted no time Saturday, heading straight for a room filled with donated bicycles. Numbering 35 in total and ranging in size and colorful hues, Olvera immediately pointed to a shiny, purple cruiser with flower covered grips. She had found the perfect gift for her 8-year-old sister.
Olvera was among the first in line December 14 as club members from Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano cashed in their hard-earned points for a coveted, early Operation Holiday Homework time slot.
For the last decade, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley have held the annual homework competition, empowering members to focus on their education with an incentives-based holiday payoff. Each day, during the clubs’ homework power hour, members have received points for accomplishing three things—being quiet, respectful and staying on task—along with completing their day’s schoolwork.
“This is an educational priority program,” said Nicole Watson, area director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley. “It is getting kids to realize, if they do their homework that good things will come, and if they place their education first, they can now give amazing gifts to their family members.”
And at the end of each month, points were counted up and displayed for all to see.
“When points are posted each month, our members’ eyes grow even bigger, and you see them focusing on their homework more and more,” Watson said. “The cool thing with members being on task, quiet and respectful, is they are doing something productive and their homework is getting completed. They are driven and focused on getting work done to be able to attend the Operation Holiday Homework event.”
For Hannah Bostic, a fifth-grader at Del Obispo Elementary School, a gift for her cousin was top priority. Rather than a gift for herself, Bostic asked if she could donate her homework earned prize. She arrived at 6 a.m. to ensure she was one of the first point earners through the door at 9:30 a.m. Her eyes set on a Power Wheels, a black, drivable Hummer, for an unsuspecting younger relative.
“Our biggest ask this year was members wanting to substitute their gifts for others,” Watson said.
Bostic got her holiday wish, and her cousin, his first car. Like her peer, Olvera’s first gift stop was not for herself, but for her sister. With the help of volunteers from the Dana Point Community Cycling Foundation, who donated bikes for the third year in a row, and Cyclelogical, a cycling shop near La Plaza Park, Olvera not only had the perfect bike, sized for her sister, but also a helmet to go along with it.
Members proudly wheeled bikes out the club’s front doors Saturday, thanks in part to the donation, and to the long hours Cyclelogical’s young mountain bike team spent assembling them. Teammates worked throughout the prior day and night, putting together some 20 bikes, delayed in transit due to weather.
“What you see here is kids helping kids, and teaching each other about selflessness,” said Russell Ames, executive director of the DPCCF.
Hundreds of such selfless acts filled Capistrano Valley’s three branches this weekend, as 340 members in San Juan Capistrano, Rancho Santa Margarita and Aliso Viejo were given the opportunity to “buy” holiday gifts for their family members.
One-by-one, young students attending the Via Positiva branch in San Juan Capistrano entered the club on Saturday, December 14 with a personal shopper. With a stadium-style introduction by Teen Director Chris Waters, members were greeted by a shopping volunteer and high-fived by dozens of others lining a hallway leading to rooms filled with gifts and Santa Claus himself.
Some were timid, some experienced from years past, but all were filled with excitement over the endless gift possibilities. And after shopping, wrapping and a high-fiving along their journey, hundreds left the club with presents for brothers, sisters, moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, a special gift for themselves and a sense of pride and achievement in earning things, both big and small, for their families.
When 8-year-old Catalina Nelson, a third-grader at R.H. Dana Elementary School, entered the club Saturday her eyes were wide, jetting gift-to-gift for choices for mom, dad and little brother.
She settled on a candle for mom, a moment-capturing gift for dad and a toy both 7-year-old bother Mark and his friends can enjoy. With a modest Lego gift for herself in hard, Nelson looked up, and politely asked, “Can we find a different present for my mom?” Nelson returned to a piece of jewelry she eyed earlier, and with a smile spread across her face said, “It’s perfect.”
Nelson greeted her mother, Natalie, with a bag-full of wrapped gifts that volunteers helped conceal for the family’s Christmas Eve reveal.
In the words of Kinoshita fourth-grader, Daniel Deanda, 9, who shopped for his mother, father and siblings ages 12, 4 and 3, “They are going to freak out.”
The Giving Continues
The Boys & Girls Club of the South Coast Area is hosting its annual Winter Wonderland and holiday party on Monday, December 23 and event organizers are asking for donations. More than 400 members ages 6 to 18 will attend the annual event, but local toy drives have proved unfruitful this year. Unwrapped donations and gift cards are being accepted at the club, located at 1304 Calle Valle in San Clemente, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, December 20. Contact the branch at 949.492.0376 for more information.