It’s tough to say who is more appreciative of the Boys & Girls Club, the kids or their parents.

For kids, there are an abundance of stimulating and engaging activities. For working parents, their kids are not only off the streets after school; they are also being exposed to quality new programs.

“Local business owners (who have financially supported the club) know their workers, and their workers’ kids. They say, ‘My business does better when parents aren’t worried about their kids,’” said Trent Yaconelli, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club in Calistoga and St. Helena. “Working parents are better able to keep their mind on the job when they know their kids are safe.”

Historically speaking, juvenile crime peaks between 3 and 6 p.m. Where there are Boys & Girls Clubs, those statistics have gone down, Yaconelli said.

The Calistoga Club got off to an inauspicious start a year ago on Oct. 7, the day before the start of the devastating wildfires.

But a year later, the club is very much in full swing.

The Calistoga Club has about 250 registered kids, about three-quarters of the population of the elementary school. On any given day there are 150–170 kids at the club. They need to sign in each day, and hours are 3-6 p.m. The cost for the whole school year is $50 per child, and scholarships are available.

Every room at the state-of-the-art facility has access to the outside, with large, sliding glass doors.

The game room is at the heart of the 14,000-square-foot building, where kids get to choose from activities.

The fully equipped, commercial-grade kitchen is also a show-stopper. Here, kids learn how to cook from the pros, with guests like local chef and restaurateur Cindy Pawlcyn. She demonstrates how to make nutritious food delicious, like vegetarian lasagna from scratch, which kids get to take home.

Kids also cook with vegetables, fruits and herbs grown in a garden on-site, like making salsa from fresh-grown tomatoes, and smoothies with watermelon.

“We’re teaching nutrition in a fun way and getting kids to pay attention to what they eat. We teach them that there are healthy alternatives, that you can balance what’s fun to eat with what’s healthy,” Yaconelli said.

Inexpensive food can be some of the worst for you, he added, and California in particular has a problem with obesity and diabetes. “One thing we show them is how much sugar is in a can of Coke.”

While the kitchen is impressive, the gymnasium is a real game-changer in Calistoga, where the elementary school does not have a gym. So, pre-club, there was no place for kids K–6 to run and jump and play dodgeball after sitting behind a school desk all day.

“It’s a critical component to our success. Especially in the winter when it rains,” said Greg Bouillerce, director of operations.

Even the bathrooms at the club are something to talk about. The sinks for washing hands are located in the hallway, outside the toilet area, giving kids no reason to hang out in the bathroom where they can’t be supervised, Bouillerce said. This arrangement is one of the first in the nation for Boys & Girls Clubs.

Besides all of this activity going on, homework is still a priority. Each day an hour is dedicated to homework, with student access to Chromebooks.

The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) lab is equipped with a 3-D printer and a touch board for drawing and expressing creative ideas.

“It’s curriculum-based playing,” said Bouillerce.

Yaconelli started with the club 21 years ago when it was a one-room operation at St. Helena Elementary School.

“The ingredients are simple; kindness, compassion and attention. That hasn’t changed. But now it’s harder for parents to pay attention to their kids, when they are both working,” he said.

The club was built and is supported by large and small supporters in the community.

The capital campaign raised more than $10.5 million to build the facility and provide for two years of operating costs.

More recently, the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Helena and Calistoga raised more than $1 million at the seventh annual “BIG Night” auction and gala held at Trinchero Napa Valley on Aug. 18.

Dario Sattui, owner of Castello di Amorosa and V. Sattui Winery donated $1 million in seed money several years ago to get the Calistoga club off the ground, and then another $500,000.

At the opening last year, Bob Torres, third-generation principal, vice chairman and director of Trinchero Family Estates, choked up talking about his late mother, Vera Trinchero Torres, who was “the emotional, giving rudder” of their family and a “big supporter” of the Boys & Girls Club, and whose name is in the facility’s gymnasium.

Recently, he said, “My mother Vera and her two brothers moved to the Napa Valley in 1947 with very few resources. We’ve always believed in giving back to our neighbors and we’re especially passionate about providing opportunities for the many deserving children across the valley, and supporting their hard-working parents … the club provides a safe place for kids and an environment that nurtures the development of their scholastic, social, and general life skills, preparing them to be the best young adults and, ultimately, future leaders and contributors to our community.”

The club also has programs for teens. Open gym sessions take place two evenings a week, and “Dinner and a Movie” night on Wednesdays.

Summer programs also keep kids active with STEM camps, life and leadership camp, arts and crafts, days at the nearby community pool and a lot more.

During a recent summer program, teens got to go on a field trip to the Santa Cruz and Monterey area, touring colleges.

As Yaconelli points, out, the club is “much bigger than a place, than just here. We also show kids the world. Half of the kids on that field trip had never even been out of Calistoga before,” he said.

More proof that Boys & Girls Clubs make a difference in children’s lives is in the high school and college graduates who come back to work at the club.

“They always say they’ve never forgotten their time here,” Yaconelli said.

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You can reach Cynthia Sweeney at csweeney@weeklycalistogan.com or 942-4035.


The Weekly Calistogan Editor

Cynthia Sweeney has been editor of The Weekly Calistogan since July, 2018. Previously, she was a reporter for the St. Helena Star, and North Bay Business Journal. She also spent a significant amount of time freelancing in Hawaii.