Boys and Girls Club to celebrate 20 years in Merced

The Boys & Girls Club of Merced County will have extra cause for celebration during its biggest fundraiser of the year, because it’s turning 20.

The organization’s annual dinner gala will celebrate its two decades in operation. The gala will be at 6 p.m. Friday at McCombs Youth Center, 615 W. 15th St. Tickets are $45.

“We take serving our youth very seriously,” Executive Director Tony Slaton said. “It’s an honor to be standing 20 years in the business of helping kids.”

The keynote speaker for Friday’s event is Brian Fuentes, who retired from the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012 after 12 years in major league baseball. Fuentes, who played with a handful of major league teams, is from Merced and attended both Merced High and Merced College.

Slaton said the gala attracts leaders from nonprofits, businesses and other organizations in the Merced area. Alumni who participated in the Boys and Girls Club over the past two decades are expected to return for the event. Slaton said he expects at least 300 visitors

The gala typically raises about $30,000 for the Boys & Girls Club. It receives grants and money from the city of Merced and other entities, as well, although the money often comes with restrictions. The money from the gala will be used to fill in the gaps, Slaton said.

“These are funds that help us cover just the operation of the place,” Slaton said. “We get grants, but (some grants are) for a program or a specific outcome, but they don’t take into account your insurance needs, your gas and water and all that type of stuff.”

In December, the Merced City Council unanimously approved a five-year extension for the club’s use of the 17,405-square-foot McCombs Youth Center. The city has agreed to support the club with $35,000 for the fiscal year, the same amount it has contributed every year since 2007.

The city’s contribution is slightly more than half of what it was paying before the economic downturn that hit the state and the nation. The city was contributing $60,000 to the Boy & Girls Club as recently as 2006.

The city has worked with the Boys & Girls Club since it opened in 1994, providing a home in the Stephen Leonard Clubhouse. The club moved to the McCombs Youth Center in 2002.

Organizers have said 45 to 55 children are in the center every day during the school year and the number can get as high as 130 during summer. The center works with children to improve literacy, health, character, leadership, among other goals.

For more information about the fundraiser, call the Boys & Girls Club at (209) 722-9922.