THE BOYS & GIRLS CLUBS OF AMERICAN SAMOA OPENS NEW CLUBHOUSE
The Boys & Girls Clubs of American Samoa opened their new facility — a clubhouse — on Wednesday morning to enthusiastic fanfare with the BGCAS Chairperson First Lady Mary Ann Tulafono unable to contain her pride and passion for the work she and her board have accomplished.
She emphasizied that it is only through public and private partnerships that they have been able to create a “community school” that is “to inspire and enable young people especially those who need us the most, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens.”
The newly renovated building is located next to Tafuna High School, across from the airport, and was most recently the former Army PX.
Partly funded with re-directed ARRA funds, according to Gov Togiola Tulafono, it became the perfect site for the project when he turned down the U.S. Army’s request to have it become an in-door shooting range.
He said concerns about lead poisoning from spent ammunition, especially since the building is located right next to a high school, led to his belief the building should be brought back to the American Samoan community — and what better use than as the BGCAS clubhouse.
The military connection becomes more apparent, when as the governor and first lady both noted in their addresses the BGC of America, national program, is on many military bases; and one of its specific goals is to include military children. Togiola said it was one of the reasons the army agreed to let its building lease go early — while it still maintains its land lease on the property (about 10 years remain).
The First Lady in her remarks, noted that naysayers of the BGCAS program and project have said it is just a ‘glorified babysitting service” or “just another after school” program. That couldn’t be further from the truth she said, and assured the BGCAS clubhouse is a “safe place for learning,” it’s “positive for kids” and the programs establish mentor-student relationships so they can make healthy decisions in their lives.
Highlighting some of the partnerships the BGCAS program has established, Mrs. Tulafono spoke of their work with children who have fallen by the wayside.
She said, in speaking with District Court Judge John Ward, who has long been a advocate of intervention programs for juveniles, she found out that the court is dealing with 200- 300 kids a month who have alcohol, drug and violence problems. This has led the BGCAS to establish a program to reach out to these kids, she said, by working with the District Court, the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Education to help these troubled youth re-enter the community.
The program is in its infancy, and at the moment is only able to accommodate juveniles who are on probation, she said, noting that because of safety concerns, the program for these kids will take place during normal school hours, and little contact will occur between other club members.
There are, according to the BGCAS chairperson, 140 children right now in the overall program, and under the national standards of the program are from the ages of 6- 18 years old.
Other partnerships highlighted by the First Lady are the ASPA and the Department of Agriculture programs — called GO GREEN — that encourages organic farming and gardening. The project was implemented last year as part of its After School programs.
Another is the current GREEN VILLAGE INITIATIVE, a project in partnership with Ta’itai’itama and ASPA which calls the idea of beautifying through recycling to mind, with scrap metal and plastic trash pickups. In return, ASPA will issue a coupon, to the kids, which they can give to their parents to be used to offset their electricity bill, Mrs. Tulafono said.
A partnership with the American Samoa Community College is another integral element of the BGCAS success, where teachers as resources have come to the table to teach.
The First Lady said that in all the partnerships, the focus is to offer a community school based on life-changing relationships — a mentoring, if you will.
Special plaques recognizing sponsors and donors for the BGCAS programs and clubhouse project were awarded, with a special recognition award to Gov. Togiola Tulafono for his tireless efforts and support to make the BGCAS a reality.
In one of those impromptu moments, the governor and first lady hugged and kissed when Togiola, who was also the guest speaker at the event, walked up to the podium to accept the award from his wife.
Lt. Gov. Faoa Aitofele Sunia was also recognized for his support and efforts for the organization.
The first lady conducted a tour of the building’s facilities, after she cut the ribbon and the celebratory cake.
A multipurpose room, computer lab, classroom, kitchen and study areas are just some of the available facilities in the clubhouse, which also has sports equipment and games available for entertainment or members interaction. An ID issued to each club member is the ticket into the clubhouse, with a computer swipe system allowing entry.
In the multipurpose room, in the back of the clubhouse, is a wall that one sees immediately when entering from inside the building. On it are the photos-graphics promoting the BGC of America theme — Great Futures Start Here,” and includes the familiar blue open door with threshold logo.
Photos can be found of the local Under 19 Baseball Team that recently toured the U.S. and Canada and the Under 19 Football Team that went to Texas, and then there is June Jones, whose Goodwill Mission every summer starts with a donation to the LBJ hospital and culminates with a football clinic for high school students. There are also the larger than life faces of many of the Samoan NFL players who have donated and continue to sponsor the BGCAS programs.
Togiola in his special remarks said the GBCAS has been 14 years since inception, and that he and Mary Ann, during the late Gov. Tauese Sunia’s time, first became aware of its potential when they visited Oceanside, California. He said, at the time, one of his doubts was the funding because he was told the clubhouses and programs operated strictly on donations with occasional grants.
As the governor noted during his speech, “this project has shown me a side of my wife I did not know” — her passionate commitment to a cause she believes in, pointing out that from a simple concept of 10 students- in one room, it has become a ‘community school’ to empower youth, in its own clubhouse.
The first lady said during her remarks that one of their pushes is to make sure their members stay in school, and later proudly spoke of the 49 original students, of which 45 are in colleges now.
During the opening ceremony, the traditional salutation was offered by Lealao Purcell, with welcoming remarks by Tupua Roy Fua who is executive director of the GBCAS, and who also was the master of ceremonies. Invocation and benediction was offered by Rev. Solomona Faiva of the Sa’ilele, EFKAS, with hymn and musical number by the Tafuna High School Choir.