VACAVILLE — The young boy was walking on one side of the street. A young girl on the other. They were involved in a shouting match.
“You can choose to ignore her,” Anna Eaton, executive director of the Vacaville Neighborhood Boys and Girls Club, told the boy.
“This is how every fight starts,” he told Eaton, who encouraged him to come into the club.
Within a few minutes, he took her up and spent some time chatting with Eaton. After that, he headed outside to play soccer.
Eaton, who worked for the city of Fairfield for a decade while running its youth theater program, stepped into the executive director spot at the Boys and Girls Club a little more than a month ago. Prior to that, she served as the organization’s director of operations, a post she still holds.
“My biggest challenge is to juggle both roles and get us financially stable,” Eaton said.
Prioritizing is tough, too.
“It’s difficult to determine what’s No. 1 when it all feels like No. 1 to me,” Eaton said.
The Vacaville Neighborhood Boys and Girls Club offers a variety activities to children ages 6-18. Homework help, career exploration and field trips are just a few of them.
Some of the teens recently participated in the Prison Outreach Program at California State Prison, Solano where they spent several hours at the prison and interacted with inmates.
Over spring break, some of the teens will go on a tour of area colleges.
At Christmas, they held a toy drive and then delivered the gifts to the surrounding neighborhood. The community has been very supportive, Eaton said. The toy drive gave the teens a chance to give back to the community.
Eaton credits her parents for an “awesome” childhood, something she wants others to have. She is active with Starbound Theatre, which serves an at-risk population, and has involved some of the Boys and Girls Club youth in productions.
The club has more than 200 members and averages 35 to 45 youth each day. Most of them come from the neighborhood schools.
Located in area of low-income apartments, Eaton said the center offers an alternative to taking the wrong path. And not just among the teens. Some of the 10- to 12-year-olds are at risk, she said.
The results of efforts by Eaton and her staff are often reflected in report cards that show improvements in grades. Once the youth reach a goal, the bar is raised again. They are rewarded for their efforts.
“I get more than I feel I give,” Eaton said of working with youth. “I feel if you’ve got one shot at helping a kid, it has to be a healthy shot.”
Robert Roberts, 18, credits the Boys and Girls Club staff with getting him on the right path and keeping him there. About five years ago, he “followed some wrong footsteps” and looked at the gang life.
Staff member Mur-Ray Colbert set him on the right path, Roberts said.
“Every time I would come here she would get on me (about my choice),” he said.
Eaton has helped him stay on the right path.
“She’s a good person,” Roberts said. “She makes the club fun every day. She brings a smile to the club. I feel like I can talk to her.”
He did that Monday afternoon, relating the story of his uncle who was killed in a recent motorcycle accident. Eaton offered him an understanding ear and sympathy.
Roberts has “adopted” fellow club member Kozy Torres, 12, as a younger sister. She, too, is an Eaton fan.
“Miss Anna is a good person,” Kozy said. “She is someone you can trust and she makes the best of everything.”
Eaton took over the top job at a difficult time, said Susan Schwartz, who volunteers at the club. Schwartz’s original plan was to spend a couple of hours a week there. Instead, she’s there daily and also helps with the club’s garden.
“She was kind of dropped into the situation and she’s handled it perfectly,” Schwartz said of Eaton. “It’s well-deserved and well overdue.”
“This has been the plan for me all along,” said Eaton, the mother of three. “All along I always knew I wanted to work with kids. The rewards are many.”
Her goals for the next year are to continue developing programs at the club, help it be on more sold financial footing and to recruit more board members. She would also like to serve the entire Vacaville community.
The club has some upcoming fundraisers, including a bowl-a-thon March 23 at Stars Recreation Center in Vacaville and a golf tournament in April. For details, call 446-4680.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.