As Nelson Mandela wisely and famously said, “The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.” In the United States, at-risk and disadvantaged youth often fall victim to circumstances outside of their control—such as poverty and a lack of familial support—at an alarming rate. What is known to many as the land of opportunity is laden with seemingly insurmountable obstacles for these children and adolescents.
The state of youth in America
Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau show that as of 2020, more than 11 million children in the United States live in families with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For these youths, the odds of successfully transitioning into adulthood and becoming well-adjusted and productive members of society are greatly reduced when compared to their peers from middle- and high-income households. Children who experience poverty often have to contend with food insecurity, lack of support in the home, and stressful living environments on a daily basis. All children need caring, positive, and enduring relationships in their lives. When parents are unable to provide the guidance and support children need, other adults can help fill the gap. Through its youth development programs, the mentorship program offered by the Boys & Girls Club of America helps at-risk and disadvantaged children and teens find the support they need to overcome obstacles.
One man’s story
Anthony Luna was an at-risk teen. According to Anthony, the local Boys & Girls Club became the one place where he knew he could be safe, find people to support his dreams and help him overcome challenging times.
“As a child, I grew up in a single-parent household, raised by my mother. My father left our family when I was only four years old for a life of drug addiction and crime, spending much of the last 25 years in prison,” Anthony says. “While my mother tried her best, she struggled to raise three children on her own. Throughout middle and high school, the Boys & Girls Club became my sanctuary and my second home. I attended the club each day after school, and the staff played an enormous role in the man I have become. At the Boys & Girls Club, I began to learn how to focus my energy on personal growth, how to be a leader, and found mentors who became surrogate parents.”
The value of mentorship
One such mentor for Anthony was George Mayer. “George became my mentor over 15 years ago,” Anthony says. “My love for the arts, theater, and Phillipe’s French dip sandwiches all come from George. In all seriousness, George was the mentor I needed at a tough time in my teenage years. George mentored my closest friend and me while we were going through some of our most challenging adolescent years. George stepped in as a father figure to two young men whose fathers were absent.”
Because of the support and mentorship that Anthony received from George and the club staff, he was able to defy the odds by graduating high school and attending California State University, Chico. While away at college, Anthony began working for a local Boys & Girls Club as a staff member to help give back to the community and organization that provided him with support during his youth.
In 2008 and 2014, he served in various leadership roles across the state until he returned to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor, where his journey first began, as the director of high school services.
In 2017, Anthony joined Coastline Equity, a multifamily and commercial property management firm that George founded in 1974. He is now a successful real estate professional, community leader, and an inspiring testament to the power and value of mentorship when it comes to making a difference in the lives of at-risk or disadvantaged youth.
In 2023, after five years with the company, Anthony assumed George’s role as CEO following his mentor’s retirement. “I am honored to be taking over from such a visionary leader as George Mayer,” Anthony says. “His contributions to the company and the industry have been immeasurable, and I am grateful for his guidance and support as I take on this new role.”
The tradition of mentorship continues.
One shining example of the impact Anthony had on the teens he mentored during his time at the Boys & Girls Club is the story of Dañiel Alexich-Duran, who became a member of the North Valley Clubhouse while in high school. As with many adolescents, Dañiel’s high school years were at times tumultuous. Common pitfalls many teens face during the difficult transition into young adulthood include peer pressure, bullying, stress at home, feelings of anxiety and depression, and low self-esteem. For Dañiel, the Chico Teen Center, part of the Boys & Girls Club of the North Valley, and Anthony provided encouragement and support during a difficult time in his life.
In addition to offering recreational activities and social enrichment, the club showed Dañiel the meaning of inclusion and inspired him to step outside of his comfort zone. Anthony’s mentorship was instrumental in helping Dañiel overcome personal challenges and family hardships that he faced. This guidance gave him the tools necessary to create a successful adulthood. Anthony taught Dañiel about effective leadership and how to make a positive impact on others by introducing him to the club’s Keystone leadership program. By encouraging students to participate in academic success, career preparation, and community service activities, the Keystone program guides participants to have a positive impact on other members, the club, and their community.