By Donna Furey | LB Indy
The newly established Laguna Club opened last month and already has a following, with 45 out-of-school children enrolled in its summer recreation program. Half the youth are rotated daily between the club’s temporary headquarters at the Woman’s Club on St. Ann’s Drive and the “playground,” the town of Laguna Beach.
Charly Rowan whose 8-year-old son attends the Laguna Club says that exploring the town’s amenities makes her son feel proud of where he lives.
The first weeks have included a visit to the Townley Gallery, where kids received a t-shirt adorned with art by a 12-year-old boy, the high school pool, tide pools, the movie theater, the public library and a trolley ride through town. On Wednesdays the club hosts a barbeque for club members, staff and friends in Heisler Park.
It has been barely three months since Travis Parsons, the executive director of the Laguna Club, was fired from a senior staff position at the Boys and Girls Club shortly after a management shift. He supervised children at its auxiliary facility in Bluebird Park known as TLC, for The Laguna Club.
There was a “disconnect between the executive level and their customers, who are the parents and the kids,” said Parsons, of Aliso Viejo, who studied anthropology at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa. Christina Pellecchia, now helping run the new Laguna Club, resigned from TLC at the same time. Their departure dismayed many parents whose kids had formed close connections with Parsons and Pellecchia.
“There is enough room in Laguna for several out of school care programs,” Parsons said in a telephone interview this week. He said his Laguna Club has a different focus from the Boys and Girls Club. Its mission is “to equip the youth of the community with the skills, experiences, and support that will encourage them to grow into healthy individuals and become a caring and involved participant in their community,” according to their Facebook page.
While Parsons and Pellecchia have demonstrated they can fill a community need, their method is raising questions in some quarters.
“We are concerned that there may be confusion on the part of the public as to [The Laguna Club] appearing to be associated with the Boys & Girls Club,” said Pam Estes, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club. “They have no connection with the Boys & Girls Club whatsoever, and we would of course, prefer that they would use an original name as opposed to one that has been in the community for over 25 years and that we have stewarded with great care over the past nine years.”
Nevertheless, Estes said the Boys and Girls club is not considering legal action to contest the new organization’s name.
In 2005, the Boys & Girls Club acquired The Laguna Club for Kids at the request of the organization’s board and chartered it as a second site, Estes said. The Laguna Club for Kids was initially incorporated in 1972 and officially changed its name to The Laguna Club for Kids, TLC, in August 1988. Its nonprofit status was dissolved in 2008, Estes said. In addition to its afterschool program, the Boys and Girls Club’s TLC site offers a $125 per week summer program from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., which also includes field trips around town.
The Laguna Club established by Parsons and Pellecchia came together with the help of family, friends and parents in the community, said Parsons. Other caregivers include Parsons’ sister and Jonathon Trigg, also a former Boys and Girls Club employee. The Laguna Club charges $200 per week per child.
Grateful to obtain a base of operations at the Woman’s Club, Parsons aims to increase membership and find a more permanent home by summer’s end to accommodate children in an after school program. “It’s a great first step,” he said.
Like the Boys and Girls Club, the Laguna Club operates as a license-exempt childcare program. “We are a private recreation program with our emphasis being on interactive learning. We have all necessary paperwork we need as a private recreation program including proper insurance,” Parsons stated in an email.
The state Department of Social Services’ website says recreation programs operated by Boy and Girl Scouts, Boy and Girls Club, YMCA and similar organizations are exempt from licenses mandated for the care of pre kindergarten-aged children.
The interactive learning at the Laguna Club emphasizes a child’s involvement in his or her learning process, according to the club’s website. The leaders envision kids planning their own community service projects, learning athletic skills, having experiences in nature, and team building.
One parent still misses Parsons and Pellechia. “I love those guys. I wish them the best of luck. I cried when they left,” said parent Julie Coleman, whose daughter participates in the TLC program in Bluebird Park.