Having an older person to turn to when you are a youth can be beneficial in many ways. Mentors can make a
wonderful difference, especially in the lives of kids who may not have other opportunities outside of their homes or
immediate environments. I had the privilege of meeting Billy Zeier, Program Director of the Boys and Girls Club of
El Sobrante and he shared with me the story of his mentor, Thoi Chau.
Billy was born and raised in San Pablo in a four bedroom house with 13 people living there. Though he had a very
loving family, it was crowded and very simple for a kid to be influenced by individuals or things outside of the family.
At nine years old, Billy was already a member of Salesian Boys Club, but one day, the phone rang and it was Thoi
Chau, a Vietnamese immigrant and 17-year old high school senior looking to mentor other youths. Thoi began picking
up Billy and several other kids to coach them at baseball and take them to practices, movies, and other fun outings.
Billy and Thoi had nothing in common other than pure humanity. Billy had a desire to learn and Thoi showed him a lot of things including genuine care and compassion for other people. Thoi helped Billy and the other youths with college admissions and provided the encouragement needed to pursue a higher education. Thoi was a major force in Billy’s life at a time when outside influences could have caused him to take steps down a much more difficult path. Instead, with Thoi as his mentor, Billy received outside guidance, support, encouragement, and direction while at the same time developing a friendship that continues to this day. Billy graduated from high school andenrolled in college, first attending Laney, and then UC Davis. He took great pride in playing football and baseball and periodically connecting with his mentor to share his successes. Meanwhile, Thoi had gone his way and continued his successes in the business world.
Today,Thoi is a chiropractor here in Contra Costa County and he is also an international re-investor. Billy graduated from UC Davis and though he still lives in Davis, he commutes to El Sobrante. Billy is passionate about his work – it is
what he is all about. It is evident from observing the interactions at the Boys & Girls Club that it is a top priority for Billy to make a difference in the lives of those he meets, especially youth. It’s not only a way of giving back, but what was instilled in him during his youth that has made a difference in his efforts today. The kids truly admire him and their actions show it. Even when discipline or correction is required, Billy does so in a manner that helps the kids to understand why the discipline or correction is being administered. By reinforcing positive behaviors, you effectively eliminate negative behaviors and it is done with respect and understanding, so as not to make anyone feel as if they are being put down which results in lowered self-esteem. Instead, positive self-esteem is built through reinforcing positive behaviors. Billy constantly rewards the kids and offers suggestions to improve, but does so in the context of
praise. Kids that are new to the Boys & Girls Club learn rules from the other kids to help form lasting bonds with each other. It is obvious that the kids are happy and enjoy their surroundings as much as the administrators, volunteers, and parents do. The atmosphere is positive and upbeat and parents can be assured that their children are receiving the greatest attention and care possible while learning new skills. They also learn the value of positive character, morals, and values. Billy told me that kids who have graduated and moved on come back to tell him what they are doing now and maintain the friendships formed through their involvement at the club.
Since 1958, literally thousands of children between the ages of 7 through 17 have walked through the doors of the Boys & Girls Club of El Sobrante. The mission of the organization is simple – to reach as many youth as possible and to provide them with the guidance and opportunities to grow into productive members of our society. Many times, we as parents get too wrapped up with work and other activities that pull us away from our children. When we get home, we may not always provide the “focused” attention that we should, or maybe our kids come home to an empty house. The Boys and Girls Club provides support and various programs to complement the home environment. As Billy says,“It’s a fun place to be, with life lessons weaved in. ”There are many programs offered including several clubs such as choir, billiards, movies, clean team/recycling, needle arts, crafts, auto skills, chess/checkers, reading, and fundraising. There are also several reward programs to reinforce positive behaviors. The Youth of the Month Award is given at the end of each month to a youth that best exemplifies the teachings of BGC and reflects on the characteristics of respect, cooperation, and safety. The Youth of the Year Award is awarded to a youth between the ages of 13-17 and is similar to the Youth of the Month Award, but also takes into account the same characteristics demonstrated through severe circumstances. There are also opportunities for Junior Staff members. Teenagers that meet the maturity and commitment requirements are given weekly work schedules that allow them to learn fundamental job skills including responsibility, commitment, and proper work ethic. There are also special events and programs that occur throughout the year such as fundraisers, talent shows, cooking and dance classes, bike races, and field trips. For an additional fee, members can participate in various sports leagues including flag football, basketball, and baseball.
The Boys & Girls Club of El Sobrante is hosting an open house reception on Saturday, March 31 from 1-5PM. The theme is “A Look into the Future” and all members of the community are welcome and encouraged to attend. Tours of the facility and new teen center will take place along with an opportunity to meet the children, staff, and board of directors. It will be an afternoon filled with fun and the opportunity to see the wonderful programs and activities sponsored by the Boys and Girls Club of El Sobrante. So, what are you waiting for? Come join us and see what a fabulous club exists right here in our own backyard!