“The Boys & Girls Club was like a second home,” he told a crowd gathered Thursday for the It Just Takes One breakfast at the Residence Inn by Marriott in Oxnard.
The event for community leaders and others interested in the group’s work kicked off its annual fundraising campaign, said Tim Blaylock, chief professional officer for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme.
Diaz’s mother, Linda Ortega, said without the Boys & Girls Club, she and her son would not have had the strength to overcome a string of misfortunes in 2007.
“He’s the one who made me overcome what I went through,” Ortega said. “I feel proud and blessed.”
In addition to Diaz, the club’s 2011 Youth of the Year, the event featured keynote speaker Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, and master of ceremonies Jacquie Brown, Miss Washington 2010.
Jacquie Brown said that while growing up in Vancouver, Wash., she was able to survive homelessness and abuse because of the Boys & Girls Club.
“Anything I can do for these mentoring programs,” said Brown, who finished third runner-up in the Miss America pageant in January. “The mentors taught me to love and believe in myself.”
Keynote speaker Stuart Brown, no relation, spoke about the importance of play in the development of young people, a subject he became familiar with while studying mass murderer Charles Whitman, who killed 16 people at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966.
Brown, one of many doctors who studied and analyzed Whitman’s life to find out how a former Eagle Scout and Marine could end up in a clock tower with a high-powered rifle, concluded that one important aspect missing from the 25-year-old’s past was play.
He said play is a necessary part of learning to function in society, and the Boys & Girls Club provides an avenue for that play.
Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said the Boys & Girls Club benefits the entire community.
“This is an outstanding program that provides kids with opportunities they may not be able to get anywhere else. For many of these kids, this is the only safe place where they can do homework and play,” he said.
Oxnard Police Chief Jeri Williams said the group allows children to get a sense of belonging in a positive atmosphere.
“The Boys & Girls Club creates opportunities in life on the front end, which pays better dividends than incarceration on the back end,” Williams said. “Everyone needs a sense of belonging, and these kids are seeing positive role models.”