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Angela Giron smiles at a press conference for the Boys and Girls Club of PuebloThe Boys and Girls Clubs of Pueblo County’s welcome and affirming presence in Pueblo School District 60 has, thanks to a sizeable grant and the blessing of administrative and building leaders, significantly expanded.

In front of a Central High School awash in the festive sounds of the school’s mariachi band and Spirit squads, Angela Giron, President/CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Pueblo County, announced the receipt of a $2.25 million Colorado Department of Education 21st Century Community Learning Center grant that will, over 5 years time, support recently added Clubhouses at Central High School, Minnequa Elementary School and Cesar Chavez Academy, a D60 charter school.

“We are just so thrilled the Colorado Department of Education awarded us this grant,” President Giron said.

With the addition of the three new sites – including the first dedicated solely to teenagers – the Boys and Girls Clubs of Pueblo County now operates seven Clubhouses, including sites at Irving Elementary School and Risley International Academy of Innovation.

In honor of the late City Councilman and committed education advocate, the Central site has been christened the Ray Aguilera Teen Clubhouse at Central.

On hand to receive news of an expanded Club presence were a lauded gallery that included District Superintendent Charlotte Macaluso and Assistant Superintendent Suzanne Morey, Board of Education members Judge Dennis Maes, Dr. Margaret Wright and Tommy Farrell, Boys and Girls Clubs board members and representatives, Wildcat student leaders, and principals of the three schools that will benefit from the Clubhouses.

The grant funds will allow Club leaders to offer an array of exciting and valuable services and programs, including youth development activities, service learning, STEM, nutrition and health education, drug and violence prevention, workforce development, counseling and mental health awareness, arts, music and physical fitness.

The Colorado Department of Education was represented by Cody Buchanan, a Pueblo native who serves as grant liaison to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Pueblo County. Cody Buchanan addresses the crowd at a press conference

“At the national level, this funding source – 21st Century Community Learning Centers – is the only one the federal government has that’s specific to out-of-school type programming,” Mr. Buchanan said. “It’s been a great pleasure of mine to work with the Boys and Girls Clubs team over the last three years.

“Pueblo sites have really risen to become some of our best, strongest programs. We’re very proud of the work you all are doing here and really excited that you are able to grow.”

Becky Medina, Vice President of Operations for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Pueblo County, stressed the significance of the grant.

“This funding will have a far-reaching, positive impact on Pueblo students, families and our community,” said Vice President Medina. “This support of out-of-school programming will support student achievement – something that is so important, now more than ever.

“Families will have the support to know that their children and teens are in a safe, supervised environment, so they can work or go to school.”

The expansion of the Clubs will, Vice President Medina added, also have an economic impact, as additional staff will be needed to operate the sites.

District 60 Board of Education member Judge Dennis Maes said partnerships like the one with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Pueblo County play an instrumental role in a thriving educational environment.

“The success of schools is based entirely on the commitment of the community that they’re in,” Judge Maes said. “And it’s easy to see that Pueblo has the grit, has the commitment, that’s necessary to make sure that our students have all of the resources they need to succeed.

“I am extremely proud not only of the continuing, but the expanding, partnership we’ve had with the Boys and Girls Clubs. And the opening of these new centers is just a testament to that.”

The grant will be used, Judge Maes added, “on every aspect of our children’s needs essential for a safe and healthy education. The gamut is complete: by definition, it’s perhaps the most holistic approach I have seen.”

Angela Giron announces the Central club will be named the Ray Aguilera Teen Clubhouse at CentralDestin Mehess, Principal of Central, opened her address with a declaration all those assembled clearly concurred with.

“It’s a great day in our Bessemer neighborhood,” Principal Mehess said. “When I was approached about a Boys and Girls Club being housed in Central, my reply was, ‘Absolutely, yes.’ We are excited and looking forward to this partnership with an organization that supports students, families, schools and communities.

“Central High School welcomes all: we are a family, where everyone is someone. So Boys and Girls Clubs of Pueblo County, welcome to the Central family. You are officially Wildcats: and once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat.”

As Principal of Minnequa Elementary School, Katie Harshman knows the debilitating effect a lack of experiences can have on a child’s life.

But thanks to the arrival of a Clubhouse in her school, the horizons of participating Lil’ Cats are sure to be broadened.

“Many of our scholars have never been outside of Pueblo, let alone to Chile’s or to the movies: all things many of us can experience on a whim,” Principal Harshman said. “Only a handful of our scholars have had the opportunity to participate in any organized club, sport or extra-curricular programming. If it’s not close to home, they may miss out due to lack of transportation or finances.

“With that said, saying that all Minnequa stakeholders are extremely excited for this opportunity provided by the Boys and Girls Clubs is a complete understatement. Every day at school, our goal is to expose each scholar to opportunities. We know that opportunities will lead to interests; interests will lead to passion; and passion will lead to purpose. This partnership will help our scholars continue to find their purpose, which makes all the difference.”

Ytzel Lopez Valenzuela, a Central student, spoke about the positive impact of Club activity in her own life.

“The Club has done so much for me and opened many doors,” Ytzel said. “Honestly, they have pushed and guided me through the last three years of high school and provided opportunities so that I can prepare to get a job and go into the workforce, and then keep that job and succeed.

“The Club has made me realize that being a young leader in the community is a great thing to be. I thank the Club for all they have done, all they’re doing, and all they will continue to do.”