Designing the Future

by • March 26, 2017 • Community

Modeling America’s Youth Through Boys & Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley

It has been exactly 157 years since the first Boys Club was founded in Hartford, Connecticut. Elizabeth Hamersley and Sisters Mary and Alice Goodwin were first to share the vision of enabled, successful youth, eventually stoking the fire to inspire the likes of former US Presidents, Postmaster Generals, and even the director of the FBI to form the Boys Clubs of America in 1956. Since then, the Club has undergone a second redesignation, upgrading its name to Boys & Girls Clubs of America in 1990. In total there are now organizations in all fifty states – serving, by totals from 2010, as many as four million boys and girls.

James Littlejohn, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club of Capistrano Valley, has certainly followed in the illustrious footsteps of those who came before him. Providing stimulating and challenging programs in order to reach their potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens has never before been such a daunting or rewarding venture, and James is preparing the South County to be a vanguard for the next 157 years of Clubs.

The notion of a productive future is wildly subjective, but James views his mission through a similar lens to that of a creative designer, achieving perfection “not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”, as Antoine de Saint-Exupery noted in his 1939 text, Terre des Hommes. This act of distillation has proven to impress upon its youth a sense of self-worth by minimizing the vast and oft overwhelming scope of moral principles to a simple development strategy: academic success, good character, citizenship, and healthy lifestyles. One could spend all his time debating the merits of each facet of social, educational, or vocational leadership.

To that effect, James and his team in the Capistrano Valley are attacking all of the above, with tailored development programs from which their full time staff is seeking results. So how much does it cost? A better question in James’ mind is how much is it worth?

“No child is ever turned away due to lack of ability to pay,” says James. “More than 88% of our membership qualifies for the free or reduced lunch program which grants them scholarship opportunities. And all of our services are provided to our members for a single $70 annual membership fee.”

While at the club, members have the opportunity to choose the programs they wish to participate in. The only mandatory activity is POWERhour homework time. “Allowing our members to make positive choices helps them to grow as a person and prepares them to become responsible citizens.”

The full time staff develop the Clubs’ programs, and are supplemented by volunteers; both part and one-time. Programs are geared towards the Formula for Impact. Like Saint-Exupery’s design strategy, the Clubs’ Formula is driven by select key positive youth development elements: High-Yield Learning activities and regular attendance. The outcome of Academic Success then, is graduated members leaving high school ready for college, trade school, military, or full-time employment. Registering to vote and engaging in the community with model character is a direct outcome of paring down the programs with Good Character and Citizenship in mind. Adopting a healthy diet goes hand in hand with the Clubs’ priority outcome area of Healthy Lifestyle – creating a lifelong commitment to fitness.

Some of the options kids have to choose from?

“Summer has a devastating effect on America’s kids, especially those who don’t participate in enriching summer activities,” says James. “Summer Brain Gain is hugely important to help keep kids on track in time outside the strict direction of schooling months. Youth aged 13-18 can explore a broad range of career areas, match their interest to development clusters, and identify the skills and education they need for their decided path. We work with the Club to recognize members for extraordinary achievements – standing as ambassadors for Boys & Girls Club youth in a Youth of the Year role.”

Kids can also join the Keystone and Torch Club – both of which offer opportunities for small group leadership and service, maturing younger adolescents at a critical stage in their health, education, community, and social development. Sports like wrestling, tennis, basketball and indoor soccer are on the table too – and participants are exposed to various activities designed to hone their decision-making and critical-thinking skills: learning how to successfully avoid and/or resist alcohol, tobacco, and premature sexual activity.

Want to help out, but not sure how to begin? “Any investment is a worthwhile investment”, James notes. “Expertise, financial, or just your time. Add your name to the list of mentors who have brought this program through the last 157 years.” Who knows? You might be that key piece in Saint-Exupery’s design koan: you add, the kids take away.

Connect with James and the Boys & Girls Club of Capistrano Valley by calling (949) 240-7898 or visit

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