B&G Maricopa

Board members have worked for a smooth opening in Maricopa.

MARICOPA — A Boys & Girls Clubs community board composed of Maricopa residents and city leaders has been influential in the club’s success in 2020 — despite the challenging first year.

“Obviously, it’s been a really interesting year,” said Associate Maricopa Board member Rusty Akers. “The last year has been a lot of ... getting the word out that there’s a club here, working with staff, ... doing some fundraising locally, and then just being a cheerleader for Boys & Girls Clubs everywhere.”

Akers sits on the Associate Maricopa Board for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sun Corridor, along with City Councilman Henry Wade, city Vice Mayor Nancy Smith, Nathan Ullyot, Tena Dugan, Mona Dixon, Bella Miller and Frank Boyce. Santa Cruz Elementary School houses the club, which caters to the school’s K-5 students.

When the start date for the club loomed amid a raging pandemic, these board members are the ones who worked to problem-solve.

“Everybody in the world was scrambling,” Akers said. “It was the same thing with the Boys & Girls Club, just — how are we going to navigate this storm? But the staff did a great job and stayed positive.”

During the pandemic, the board chose to prioritize the needs of Santa Cruz students and kept the club open as an essential service. Akers estimates the Santa Cruz Branch only closed down for one to two weeks during the school year.

At the start of the school year, the club provided not only the usual games, sports and team-building activities, but also a fully operational learning lab in partnership with the Maricopa Unified School District. Students who were unable to work at home found solace in the club, where they could attend class virtually and complete school work.

Akers, a 16-year resident of Maricopa, said the need for child care and after-school services is especially high in a bedroom community like Maricopa.

“This city is such a latchkey kid place with so many parents working out of town, leaving early in the morning and coming back late at night,” Akers said. “Just offering, first of all an affordable place for kids, a safe place for kids, a place where kids can grow and thrive — I think all of that is found in Boys & Girls Clubs.”

Members of the board met virtually every month last year to ensure the Boys & Girls Club had the adequate resources to remain open for those children. In 2021, Akers hopes the Maricopa board will add two to three new members to further diversify the voices involved in the club’s decision making.

Executive Director for Boys and Girls Clubs of the Sun Corridor Matthew Lemberg is impressed with the current board and expressed his gratitude to the members for their dedication over the past year.

“We really appreciate our community board,” Lemberg said. “They have been a huge driving force in the immediate legitimacy of our organization. We’ve got some very influential and very passionate people on that board who, in the middle of a crazy time, signed up to be a volunteer for an organization.”

Next year, the club hopes to expand the board roster to better represent Maricopa and all of the branches of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sun Corridor.

“We’re actually in the middle of changing our board structure right now,” Lemberg said. “We have an executive board, a corporate board and a community board and we are moving toward just a corporate board and different community boards.”

Representatives from each community board will also serve on the corporate board to ensure communities around the Sun Corridor are spoken for. These expansions run concurrently to the growth happening in the club, a trend Lemberg sees continuing in 2021.

“We’re excited, as capacity grows, to serve more kids at that club,” Lemberg said. “Our Maricopa community board wants to expand as quickly as the community will support us.”

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Katie Sawyer covers Maricopa and the surrounding area for PinalCentral, including city, education, business, crime and more. She can be reached at ksawyer@pinalcentral.com.