With its building closed since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic and the possibility of returning to some normalcy still off in the distance, the Boys & Girls Club of Cathedral City (BGCCC) has found yet another way to impact the lives of youth.
Many of the same kids who have participated in the BGCCC programs spend their days at home trying to navigate their classwork through a computer. And many times alone because their parent or parents work, says Scott Robinson, CEO of BGCCC for the past 15 years.
“Many of these kids fall through the cracks and they can’t,” Robinson says. “They lose a year in education.”
To help keep those kids on track, Robinson says the BGCCC will reopen in mid-October and create a learning center for its members who registered for assistance with their schoolwork. Some of the funds to help pay for this initiative, which includes upgrading the BGCCC’s wifi capabilities, will come from its 8th annual Sammy’s International Meatball Festival, which got underway Sept. 20.
There will be no in-person festival due to pandemic restrictions, but a virtual one has been created with the same intent of showcasing the meatball talents of both amateur and professional chefs while raising donations. Sammy Pace, who helped start the festival eight years ago, serves on the BGCCC board, owns Sammy’s Place in Cathedral City, and is back to lead the charge again.
“We’re going to this new format, hopefully it’s going to work, and we’ll still continue to make money for the kids,” Pace says. “But it’s fun, and it’s quite a good event.”
Cathedral City government officials were part of last year’s festival.
This year, festival-goers will visit the BGCCC website where they will find more than 30 video links to the chefs who have entered. Some of the videos will actually take you through the entire preparation of making the meatballs to others that show you a finished product. And because this is an international meatball festival, you’ll see variations from traditional meatballs.
Since the experience is virtual this time, voters may be swayed by the content of the video or the entrant in the absence of actually tasting the meatball entry. By clicking to vote for a chef, you will be prompted to donate funds to the BGCCC. “So whether it’s ‘Wow, that looks like a tasty meatball’ or ‘Wow, they really put a lot of energy into their video’, or ‘I liked them and I want to vote for Sammy’, whatever it takes to get them to want to vote,” says Robinson.
Voting will be open through Oct. 10. The festival celebration takes place from 2-3 p.m. Oct. 4 featuring Pace, testimonials about the festival and the BGCCC.
Pace once held cooking classes at the BGCCC and some of his students eventually became employees at his restaurants. It’s that type of success story that made the decision to open a learning center for challenged students an easy one. Robinson says the center will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and the students will work with staff in pods to adhere to social distancing regulations.
“We had a basic shift in thinking of what our basic after school program is and what is the best use of our facility and services right now,’ Robinson says. “We had an amazing summer program and the kids were engaged with us, but once school started that started to drop off. They are on computers all day and they don’t want to do more virtual Boys and Girls Club activities after school. We realized we needed to pivot and create the best way of helping serve these kids.”
To access the 8th Annual Meatball Festival and vote, visit bgcccity.org.