Surrounded by new office furniture that had recently been delivered, Shanna Warren, the chief executive officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Burbank and Greater East Valley, recently sat in the room that will become her new office.
Since she began working at the club in 2001, Warren, her fellow employees and club members have made do with the converted firehouse on North Buena Vista Street that has served as their home since the club’s formation in 1995.
While always grateful to the city of Burbank for making the building available, both staff and club members had to power through the challenges – including a lack of space and bathrooms – in a facility where storage spaces and closets were literally transformed into offices.
Those days will now become a part of the club’s history as this week marks the organization’s move into the old Salvation Army complex on East Angeleno Avenue in the city’s downtown area.
Joined by Paul Herman, who serves as the president of the club’s board of directors, the duo reflected on the steps of faith and hope they both embarked on during 2020 to make this new home for the club a reality.
“My desire to get involved with the Boys and Girls Club stemmed from when I was with Leadership Burbank and my class took on a beautification project at the existing club,” Herman said. “That’s how I got to know everyone, saw the incredible work they were doing, and knew that I wanted to be involved. Soon after, I was appointed to their board and, as a realtor, felt I could be helpful in securing a new facility for the club, which they have been in desperate need of.”
With the exploration of either purchasing an existing building or a site to build on, the local Boys and Girls Club board has been working with the city and the Burbank Unified School District for the better part of two decades. Then, just over a year ago, Burbank’s chapter of the Salvation Army decided to sell the building that had been its home.
“Paul knew it had been listed and asked me if I wanted to go see it,” said Warren. “I said yes and the minute we walked in the front lobby I told him I heard angels singing in my head,” she added with a laugh.
Quickly realizing that the complex was already set up perfectly for a Boys and Girls Club, Herman and Warren completed their tour, walked out into the parking lot and looked at one another.
“I told him I had this feeling that we had just walked through our new home,” Warren recalled. “Then, when I realized it was on Angeleno Street, that gave me even more of an angelic feeling about it being the right place for us.”
While Herman and the club’s board had been working on the possibility of building a club on a local school campus for some time, they knew the construction costs would be “a big ask” for financial supporters.
“We knew what we needed, and when Shanna and I walked through the Salvation Army building we noticed right away, from having done site specific and architectural planning, that it had everything we needed: administration offices, class room space, a commercial kitchen, security features, a gymnasium. It just checked off every box,” Herman said.
Following their tour, Herman contacted local developer Michael Cusumano to join him and Warren for a second tour and to get his opinion.
“The Cusumano family has been involved with us for a long time,” said Herman. “They have been of great help, giving us direction on the right area to build a new club, or what we should look for in an existing building. We invited Michael to come over, he agreed it would be perfect, and right away they pledged a million dollars toward our purchase of the building.”
Along with the Cusumano family, the Walt Disney Company and the city of Burbank also gave a million dollars each, the club’s staff and board brought in a fourth million by establishing a fundraising campaign, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office was able to secure $250,000, and Congressman Adam Schiff is also currently working on securing federal funding, all to go toward the building’s $5.3 million purchase price.
“We had enough for a down payment, so we put in an offer and in November of 2020 and they accepted it,” said Herman. “We signed everything in December, and immediately began renovations.”
Saying that the club’s board never wavered or second guessed that they could raise the needed money for both the building and the improvements, Herman also noted that they realized the value and opportunity the new building would bring.
“With a theater, community room, gym and commercial kitchen, the building will not just suit our needs, but also afford us the opportunity to do more for the community, providing programs and leasing facilities to other organizations,” said Herman. “We have staff who have been willing to accept the limited space we have had because they believe so much in the club’s mission, but this facility will allow them and the kids to flourish in ways they haven’t even thought of yet.”
While this week’s move is underway, so are plans for a June 25 (COVID willing) open house to show off their new home to the public. Warren said she is thrilled for her staff, especially longtime employees such as Jay Jackson, who is the club’s sports and recreation director, and creative arts director Arp Ineh.
I am really excited that they will now have the space and facilities they have always wanted,” Warren said. “But I’m most excited for the kids. I just can’t wait to open our doors and see them run into this building and explore the garden and the gym, and all the classrooms.”
Although the excitement within the staff, board and members of the club is palpable, Warren admits that this week will also be a bit bittersweet for all of them.
“The old firehouse has been my home away from home for the past 20 years, and that building has helped save thousands of lives,” she said as tears welled-up in her eyes. “I am so grateful to the city for letting us call it our home, and for all of their help, the help of our former and current board members, the school district who has been our wonderful partner, and all of our supporters. Over this past year, we all got a little sad when we thought of it being our last Christmas and our last Valentine’s Day in our old home. We all have so many fond memories of that building.”
Warren dabbed her eyes.
“But now we have a lot of new memories to make in our new home,” she said, “in a home where the angels want us to be.”
Since 1995, the local Boys & Girls Club has touched the lives of thousands of local children and their families, providing regular programming as well as affordable after-school and summer programs. Anyone wishing to help the club raise the final $2 million to reach the $6 million goal of its capital campaign may call Shanna Warren at (818) 842-9333.
DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.