Youth Center reaches a million hours of service to children thanks to many along the way

Reaching one million hours of service to local kids this year since 1952, The Youth Center in Los Alamitos historic legacy carries on thanks to many along the way.

With humble beginnings going as far back as 1949, when Los Alamitos was rural with sugar beet fields and dairy farms, William C. Poe, Jr., the only attorney in town, suggested proceeds from the Fall Festival go towards building the Grace Johnson Youth Center, according to former Los Alamitos Mayor and Youth Center Board Member Marilynn Poe. Enough was donated to make a concrete pad on a Katella Avenue lot. The lot became the focal point for many of the town’s activities.
William Poe went on to assist Los Alamitos Race Course (LARC) entrepreneur Frank Vessels in proposing an additional race day with proceeds to go towards a youth center fund in 1952. But California racing law prohibited funds going to an organization named after an individual. Therefore, the Grace Johnson Youth Center became the Los Alamitos Youth Center.
In 1954, as building activities picked up in northwest Orange County, monies were set aside for construction of The Youth Center building on Katella Avenue. Vessels donated funds in materials and supplies, hired an architect, and with the help of other service organizations in town, the building was constructed, and opened in 1957. Gail Reid became director, and remained so for 13 ½ years, according to a document from Los Alamitos Museum.

Reid opened daily programs in for children including basketball, volleyball, badminton, table tennis, pool tables, arts & crafts. Weekly programs included gymnastics, where world-famous gold medalist Olympian Cathy Rigby began her gymnastics career.

As the Los Alamitos, Rossmoor and Seal Beach communities continued to grow in the 1960’s to 1970’s, The Youth Center had outgrown its existing building. The Board of Directors searched for a new location. In 1972, Los Alamitos City Council expressed enthusiasm for a new Youth Center, and a new lease was signed. The following year, plans were made between the City and The Youth Center for construction of a multi-use recreational center. The County of Orange and Anaheim Union School District became partners, and use of land at Oak Middle School for construction of a gymnasium was approved.
In 1975, groundbreaking for The Youth Center and gymnasium took place on Oak Street. At that time, The Youth Center was known as the Teen Center with offices at the current LATV station building, and by 1976 the new City of Los Alamitos Community Center and gymnasium were complete.

Dedication of the Teen Center, the current Youth Center site, took place in 1979. The architect was Bill DuBourdea of Rossmoor. A year prior, Bingo game fundraisers began under City of Los Alamitos Park and Recreation Manager Mark Wagoner, who served as director for the Teen Center. He acted as Youth Center executive director from 1981 to 1990.

With Los Alamitos Unified School District (LAUSD) funds lacking for the arts, The Youth Center offered to create an after school music program for all elementary students in the district in 1989. Currently more than 300 students are enrolled in the program.

In 1995, Executive Director Tom Stretz brought fundraising and program development experience to The Youth Center, and a new community collaboration with the Rossmoor Community Services District (RCSD) and the Joint Forces Training Base were formed. The first Community Support Campaign, a month-long fundraiser, begins and raises $70,000, exceeding a goal of $50,000. Over the years, in excess of $1 million has been successfully fund raised by campaigns. This year, the first Campaign Gala celebration was held and saw more than $250,000 raised.

A full day summer camp at Rossmoor Park started in 1996. In partnership with RCSD, The Youth Center launches Teen Camp in 2007. Many students come from places far and wide, including teens from around the world.

Through a long-standing partnership with Ganahl Lumber in Los Alamitos since 2000, the community tradition of the The Youth Center Christmas Tree Lot began. At last year’s tree lot new partnerships were created between The Youth Center and the City of Cypress, who helped with a new location at the LARC parking lot. For the first time through the newly established Youth Center Volunteer Program, corporate individuals were recruited for the tree lot from Golden State Water Company, Molina Health Care and Clarion Corporation. The volunteer program is growing and now has more than 600 applicants on file.

By 2005, Lina Lumme joins the Youth Center working as front office and staff member. Five years later, she becomes executive director enhancing and growing new programs under her leadership. Through the on-going partnership with RCSD, the second after school program for kids K-5th grade called R.A.S.C.A.L.S., is launched at Rossmoor Park by 2015. Two years later, the R.A.S.C.A.L.S. Literacy Program begins. A Tutoring Program also starts at the Youth Center After School Program (ASP), and “Power Hour” homework time is implemented. The ASP grows to include elementary school kids while still serving middle schoolers.

A Night Among the Stars youth philanthropic awards to recognize outstanding youth volunteers in the community begins in 2013. After seeing another growing need involving teens, The Youth Center holds their first Leadership Academy by summer 2015, with workshops and mentoring for high schoolers about to embark on independence. Through a partnership and funding from the Better Lives Foundation, the academy is offered free of charge to the students.

Addressing the current needs of the community’s children, The Youth Center refines its summer day camp at Rossmoor Park to become Camp S.H.A.R.K. (“Science, Hands On, Art, Recreation and Knowledge”) is launched in 2017. It emphasizes science, education, arts & crafts and recreation in an electronics-free environment.

This year the bi-annual “Every 15 Minutes” teen drunk driving determent event impacted the 3,000 high schoolers at LAHS. The Youth Center brought this national program to the local community two years after it was discovered by a member in 1997. Community sponsors and partners include the LAUSD, the California Highway Patrol (CHP), O.C. Fire Department, Los Alamitos Medical Center, Forest Lawn Mortuary and Orange County Municipal Courts all participate in this life-changing event.

The Youth Center continues to assess and meet the growing needs of children in the greater community, to nurture them in mind, body and spirit, while building upon their legacy. Their on-going programs serve more than 3,000 youth annually. They are in need of a new building by 2024, and have come far from the concrete pad they once called home. With vision and support, they look forward to serving another one million hours of service to youth in the years to come. For more information about The Youth Center, please visit online at

This article was released by The Youth Center.