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Alumni call club key to success (w/video)

By Carolina Astrain
Feb. 12, 2014 at 11 p.m.
Updated Feb. 11, 2014 at 8:12 p.m.

Gilbert Ramon, 43, of Victoria, center, talks with children  at a Victoria Boys and Girls Club after-school program in Victoria. "There's no doubt that this is a foundation for success," Ramon said, who joined the Boys and Girls Club when he was 8 years old at the old location on Pine Street in Victoria.

Arielle Orsak colored in a Valentine's Day card for her teacher Wednesday afternoon at the Boys and Girls Club of Victoria.

Arielle, 9, and 149 other club members went from room to room playing pool, pingpong and working on homework as part of a youth program that Gilbert Ramon remembers being a vital part of his life.

"Everyone is really nice and helps us with our homework," said Arielle, a third-grade Victoria school district student. "Everybody always has a smile on their faces."

Ramon, 43, was a member of the at-risk youth organization when it was on Pine Street before moving to its present location at 202 Hopkins St.

"I'm never going to forget my roots," Ramon said. "Never."

Wes Moore, a military veteran and former White House fellow, is speaking at the VISD Fine Arts Center as part of Victoria College's Lyceum Lecture Series on Thursday about the importance of supporting at-risk youth and developing mentors early in life.

Ramon, who has been reading some of Moore's book, "The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates," said the message the author is spreading rings true to the mission at the Boys and Girls Club of Victoria.

"He writes about the importance of developing role models at an early age," Ramon said. "After seeing what he (Moore) was able to accomplish - it's incredible."

Ramon, who is also a member of Habitat for Humanity's Youth Development Leadership Program, said being a member of the Boys and Girls Club of Victoria gave him an edge when he entered the military.

"I already knew how to work with a diverse group of people," Ramon said. "There is no doubt that this is a foundation for success."

Boys and Girls Club of Victoria Executive Director Marc Hinojosa said he hopes to see the center attract older students with the addition of a weight room.

Since he began as the center's director in July 2012, Hinojosa has worked with University of Houston-Victoria and Victoria College students to work as mentors while earning work study credits.

"Because they're closer to the members' ages, I think they're able to relate to them a little bit better," Hinojosa, 53, said. "Most of the kids from the university are from out of town, so this is also a learning process for them as well."

The organization's 2012-13 operating budget was $235,000, Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa, who was also active in the Boys and Girls Club of Victoria as a youth, said he's noticed that there's been a change in the family structure.

"It used to be a lot stronger when Ramon and I were kids," Hinojosa said. "Nowadays, we've become more critical of an organization because most kids here come from a single-parent home or are raised by their grandparents."

Throughout the year, the center services 450 youths from seven Victoria school district campuses - Hopkins, F.W. Gross, Dudley, O'Connor, Torres, Patti Welder and Stroman, Hinojosa said.

"We just received a grant for an additional bus," Hinojosa said. "But we're hoping to get some more support."

The students the organization helps are predominately Hispanic.

Ramon said although there are more Hispanics in leadership positions across the country, there's room for improvement.

"We still have a long way to go," Ramon said. "I'd like to see one of our Hispanic veterans hold a political office someday."

Nathan Perez, a Hopkins Elementary School third-grader, said he enjoys coming to the center after school because he gets to socialize and make friends.

This is Nathan's third year in the program.

"We play dodgeball, play pingpong and pool," Perez, 9, said. "I'd probably be outside walking around or playing video games at home if I weren't here."

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