The Boys & Girls Club of Tampa Bay's 2012 Great Futures Breakfast drew a capacity crowd and some big names, most notably Lou Piniella and Ken Griffey Jr., to the Tampa Bay Times Forum. • But it was a couple of noncelebrities who offered perhaps the most moving testimonies about the organization's impact on young lives.
Synthia DuBose, the 2005 Boys & Girls Club of Tampa Bay Youth of the Year, spoke of being abused as a child and how the club helped turn her life around. She said the first girl who ever talked to her at the club ended up becoming the maid of honor at her wedding. And she praised the club's scholarship programs, which helped her obtain a bachelor's degree with "no debt."
DuBose said she's someone "whose life was transformed for the better."
Sasha Alvarez, a member of the Salesian Garcia Boys & Girls Club in Tampa, then took the stage for a short performance piece. The 16-year-old received the Hank & Billye Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation National Scholarship Award. She is one of 44 young people nationwide to receive the honor.
The award allowed her to train at two of the top dance schools in the nation: Alonzo King Lines Ballet in San Francisco and the Juilliard School in New York. Alvarez has been a club member for eight years and teaches modern dance, jazz and hip-hop to current club members.
The Boys & Girls Club of Tampa Bay has provided programs and services to youths ages 5 to 18 for 85 years and has grown and adapted with the ever-changing face of the local community.
"We're not just about sports anymore," said Dennis Alvarez, a club alumnus, former Hillsborough County chief judge and current board member. "Now we focus on health, on character, on responsibility, academics."
The Boys & Girls Club of Tampa Bay has grown since it took over the Rotary Club's operation in 1926. It now maintains 17 sites throughout Hillsborough and Pasco counties, serving more than 10,000 area youths.
"We need even more space in our modern facilities," club president Brad Baumgardner said. "Now we need computers and technology — we want to provide these things that kids wouldn't have access to otherwise."
Both Baumgardner and Boys & Girls Club of America president Frank Sanchez acknowledged the difficulty in funding such a large public program.
"We do receive funds from the federal and state governments, but government money comes and goes," Sanchez said. "It's the individual donors that have always been there sustaining our base."
Thursday's event, which was attended by 770 guests and raised more than $300,000, recognized some of the club's longtime corporate sponsors, including the New York Yankees, United Way and Rotary Club. But many noted that without individual contributions, the club would not be able to sustain itself.
The morning's keynote speaker, and easily the most recognizable face, was retired baseball superstar Ken Griffey Jr., who was presented with a framed collage in recognition of his work with the club.
Griffey has been a part of the Boys & Girls Club for 20 years and has been a board member for 13 years. His first experience with the club was in 1992, when he was named the All-Star Game's Most Valuable Player and won a 15-passenger van.
"Obviously, I wasn't going to keep it," Griffey said. "So I went down the list of five charities and I picked the Boys & Girls Club."
It has been a happy marriage ever since. Aside from driving corporate sponsors such as Nike and Nintendo toward the club, Griffey has become its unofficial spokesman and is very much a face of the organization.
On Thursday, he spoke of volunteering while in high school in Cincinnati.
"My senior year of high school, we had to do 100 hours of community service to graduate. I ended up working for Big Brothers/Big Sisters and I really enjoyed it," Griffey said. 'Then I graduated high school, played a few years of pro baseball and boom, I was giving back."
Griffey, a father of two boys, Terim, 10, and Trey, 19, appreciates the importance of having options for kids. Both of his sons use the clubs in their respective areas — Terim in Orlando, Trey in Tucson, Ariz.
"It's a great thing as a parent, to know where your kids are and be comfortable with where they are," Griffey said.