Desert Leaf

Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson

by Jan Henrikson

Heart of the Matter

Surely, lost dogs and wayward hikers are thankful for the drones that find them. Emergency response isn’t drones’ only usefulness, though. They can track severe storms, deliver medicine to remote locations, and capture aerial views of campuses, like the University of Arizona, for enrollment tours.

Joseph Gulotta, a retired assistant fire chief recalls a stranger with a drone appearing at just the right time to give firefighters an aerial view of a wildfire raging on a hill. Now board president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson, Gulotta is excited that its youth members will have the opportunity to learn how to build and fly drones as part of BGCT Teen Tech Center and Workforce Readiness Center, scheduled to open in the fall in the completely transformed Holmes Turtle Clubhouse.

“Drones have become a career path in many industries, from public safety to forestry service to real state,” says Gulotta.

“We’re so excited,” adds Denise Watters, CEO of BGCT. And not solely about drones.

The tech center and workforce readiness program will give youth an aerial view of their futures, revealing career possibilities never before imagined. In addition, partnerships with corporations, universities, and Pima Community College will translate members’ dreams into real-world jobs, internships, or higher-education opportunities.

“We’re dealing with at-risk kids,” says Watters, about the organization that offers after-school and summer programming in six Tucson neighborhood clubhouses for youth ages 7 to 17.

Ninety percent of participants’ households are at or below poverty level. Some kids have never left their neighborhood, and most need to start contributing to the household immediately after high school graduation.

At the various clubhouses, members may engage in digital literacy, musicmaking, and financial literacy activities. They cultivate leadership skills as they run a clubhouse snack bar and create and sell their own artwork at a yearly fundraiser. Qualities of body positivity, respect, self-confidence, and compassion are modeled and nurtured by the vetted volunteers.

Academy of Sports and Leadership

Young girls get to see Adia Barnes in action” says Watters.

Barnes, a former WNBA player and current UArizona women’s head basketball coach, expanded her own life vision after attending a Nike Think Tank for international professional women athletes. Nike gave her $100,000 to fuel the nonprofit of her choice in late 2022, Barnes chose BGCT, and she and BGCT formed the Adia Barnes Academy of Sports and Leadership at the Steve Daru on Tucson’s west side in mid-2023.

We were extremely thankful” says Watters. “The girls are having a ball learning basketball.”

Watters describes Barnes, who is also a board member, as “gracious, inviting girls to a game, taking pictures with the girls, and talking with them about the importance of good academics, discipline, determination, and how you should treat your body – exercising and eating right.”

By meeting Barnes’s manager, marketing person, and other trainers, the girls realize a sports career isn’t restricted to being a star basketball player or coach.

The vision is to inspire Boys & Girls Clubs in Southern and Northern Arizona to launch their own leagues, then play in an Adia Barnes Statewide Boys & Girls Clubs Tournament.

“We couldn’t be prouder of these kids” says Watters, “Some tell such heart-wrenching stories about the challenges they’ve had and how the club has provided a safe haven for them. More important, the relationships they develop with personnel and staff are instrumental in providing a foundation for growth, success, and great futures.

Youth of the Year

Participants in the BGCT Youth of the Year competition – one high school student from each clubhouse-share their experiences in front of roughly 30 judges.

“Whenever we have the judging, we have plenty of tissues on the table,” says Watters.

Jaydon Moore, 17, is the 2024 City of Tucson Youth of the Year. An 8-year member of the Jim and Vicki Click Clubhouse, he is interested in studying athletic training or sports medicine at UArizona, USC, or UCLA. He was also one of the winners of the national BGC’s NASCAR Train Like a Pit Crew Contest.

“He was picked by NASCAR to travel to Miami all expenses paid” says Watters. He’s a stellar young man, really gracious, a 4.0 student, and athlete.

He and all YOY participants will be celebrated at BGCT’s annual Youth of the Year celebration and fundraiser to be held June 8 at the Westin La Paloma.

“If you start (competing) when you’re sophomore, you can earn substantial scholarship money by the time you’re a senior.” says Watters.

As the winner, Moore receives $5,000, while the runner up receives $2,500. Third in line gets $1,500, and other participants get $1,000 each. Moore also has a chance to compete in the state, regional, and national competitions.

Coming Full Circle

A BGC kid herself, Watters excelled in basketball, tennis, and softball. She had no idea she’d come a full circle to support other BGC kids in such a creative way. Watters says her own father, “rest in peace would be very proud of where I’m sitting.”

Most days she’s sitting in her office on the floor above the BGCT Frank & Edith Morton Clubhouse in midtown, next to Doolen Middle School. “I’m looking out my window at the kids playing soccer”, she says. It gives me such warmth and inspiration to know we are guiding all those kids.”

For more information: Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson, 520 573-3533, Facebook, Instagram.

Jan Henrikson is a local freelance writer. Comments for publication should be addressed to [email protected]



The Catalina Foothills Magazine 

Dessert Leaf – Vol. 37, No. 6. June 2024


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