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Aera donates $280,000 to Boys & Girls Clubs of Kern County

The youth-oriented nonprofit will get a new roof and rooftop solar-panel system, saving $60,000 in annual energy costs.

You can’t blame Zane Smith for spending more time up on the roof these days.

That’s because the building that houses key operations of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kern County, where Smith is executive director, is getting a new roof and rooftop solar-panel system, thanks to a $280,000 donation from Aera Energy.

“This is a dream come true,” Smith said.

Aera’s donation will let the nonprofit upgrade its largest building, the Armstrong Youth Center, located on Niles Street in central Bakersfield. The center is the hub for the Club’s activities and programs, including after-school care and athletics serving up to 300 kids a day.

The 22,000-square-foot facility, which opened in 1997, holds administrative staff, classrooms, special program and recreation spaces, and a gym. It also includes a commercial kitchen, where 25,000 meals a month are prepared for families throughout Kern County.

The new roof and 74.4-kilowatt solar-power system will save the Club more than $60,000 a year in utility costs. That will free up those dollars to fund more programs and serve more young people, said Smith. The project is expected to be completed by spring 2019.

“For every dollar that Zane and his team don’t have to spend on energy bills, there’s a dollar available to help our kids and our community thrive,” Aera President and CEO Christina Sistrunk said during the Jan. 9 donation announcement at the nonprofit’s center.

A vision takes shape

The rooftop project took shape during a Boys & Girls Clubs’ 2018 spring meeting, recalled Smith, in a discussion with Theresa Bush, an Aera senior vice president who serves on the nonprofit’s board.

“The health and safety of our children is our top priority,” said Smith, who has led the nonprofit since 1996. “Between trying to work around a leaky roof and the expenses of keeping children cool during our long summers, the Club has continued to stretch its resources, which could have been spent on direct programming.

“We were excited that Aera’s leadership could see our vision for improving the program environment and was willing to champion the effort to make this possible,” he added.

Aera’s donation will free up Armstrong Youth Center classrooms and program spaces that were often closed during the rainy season. The facility is a training center for STEM, performing and visual arts, and nutrition and physical fitness programs. It also accommodates a school-readiness morning program for local infants and toddlers and provides meeting space for many community events.

“As part of its overall vision, Boys & Girls Clubs of Kern provides a world-class experience that assures success is within reach of every young person who walks through our doors,” Smith said. “Aera has a long history of supporting this organization.”

In addition to sponsoring numerous fundraising events, Aera provided $30,000 in 2006 to purchase a 13-passenger van. In 2007, it helped underwrite $60,000 in facility upgrades at the Armstrong Center.

“Aera strongly believes in the Boys & Girls Clubs’ mission to enable all young people to reach their potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens,” Bush said, “And its vision to provide an experience that assures success is in reach of every young person who enters its doors aligns nicely with the value we place on building community.”

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