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COMMUNITY BREAKFAST OFFERS INSIGHT INTO BOYS & GIRLS CLUB

For local youths, the Vacaville Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club has been a comforting place to learn and grow.
It’s where Gracie Nance, 16, found her voice; where Shanneil Turner, 15, launched her nonprofit; and where Julian Howard, 19, has returned to teach the younger generation.
At an inaugural community breakfast sponsored by Wren’s Cafe early Wednesday, the youths and others spoke about the significant impact the club has had on their lives.
The club, Executive Director Anna Eaton advised, is all about the kids — giving them a happy place to be themselves while learning to be the best they can be with the aid of dedicated staff and volunteers. The morning’s event, meanwhile, was all about adults in the community.
“Our goal is we wake up your hearts, that you walk away knowing a little bit more than you did before,” Eaton said, sharing that the day was also her birthday. Her dream — that community members be inspired by the youths and invest their time and, if possible, finances, in the club.
“That’s my birthday wish,” she emphasized.
Gracie spoke about her growth during her three years with the club.
“I suffered from a confidence problem,” she said, addressing the crowd. “I didn’t think I was good enough for anything.”
Unsure of herself and in a bad relationship, the club’s Youth of the Year said she never spoke up, fully shared herself or let anyone know what was really going on in her life. Until recently, when she found her voice with the aid of a safe place to land — the club — and club peers to depend on.
“I started realizing I can’t just give pieces of myself,” she mused. “I have to give all of myself.”
The Boys & Girls Club, it seems, was the one constant in her life.
“It’s not just a place to go at 3:30 p.m. for a snack. It’s not just a place to go to see your friends,” Gracie continued. “It’s a SAFE place to go.”
For Shanneil, the club was a confidence booster that helped her in a time of need.
The teen spoke of trying out for her school’s basketball team and being waylaid by a shoddy, broken shoe. Thanks to a scholarship from the club, she was able to buy new shoes and made the team. But the experience made her really think.
“It made me think of kids other than myself,” she said, and so she started Shanneil’s Locker, a nonprofit that gives shoes to kids in need who want to play sports.
“I wanted to help others who may be struggling,” she said. “None of this is possible without the Boys & Girls Club. I need you to know great things are possible through the Boys & Girls Club. I know my life wouldn’t be the same without it.”
Julian grew up in the club and it was a safe place for him to act out in. The son of alcoholic parents, he was raised by an aunt who was later diagnosed with cancer. Life was tough, and the teen had a lot to work through.
Eaton explained that the child who had been a handful and who barely made it through school has become a young man excited to start college. And, he has returned to the club fold as a youth development specialist.
“We are so proud of you, Julian. Good job,” she said.
Clarence Williams of Vacaville Dodge. Chrysler, Jeep spoke about his experiences with what was known as the Boys Club during his childhood.
Growing up in a San Francisco neighborhood known for drugs, gangs and prostitution, the club was his everything.
“I would not have survived that had it not been for the Boys Club,” Williams shared, as a club mentor took him and six others under his wing and showed them the way.
Club staff and volunteers have huge hearts as they strive to guide youngsters, he said. And while not everyone can give in this way, “We have other ways of helping. … Financially, we can do our part by giving to the Boys & Girls Club.”
To give online, visit www.vnbgc.com.