Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Actor Mark Wahlberg shows up at the San Pedro Boys and Girls Club to talk with the youth and help announce a  $50,000 donation from his and the Taco Bell Foundation.


Actor Drops in for a Visit and Offers Kids Lessons in Humility and Courage

By Diana L. Chapman

In a whirlwind visit Wednesday to the San Pedro Boys and Girls Club, actor Mark Wahlberg  offered teenagers a healthy dose of encouraging words along with thousands of dollars to rebuild the club’s 5-year-old studio . Along the way, he shared his own troubled beginnings.

A well-nourished partnership between Wahlberg’s Youth Foundation and the Taco Bell Foundation offered $50,000 to upgrade the recording studio—making it a multimedia facility—with plans to do so at others Boys and Girls Club facilities.

“I want one in every single Boys and Girls Club and every single high school,” Wahlberg announced with Taco Bell and Boys and Girls Club officials before assembled news media. “Not everybody is so fortunate. Growing up the way I did, we didn’t stand much of a chance. If we had something like this, there’d be a lot less kids getting into trouble.

“I was given a second chance. Most of my friends never had one.”

 The San Pedro Club – one of only four selected in the nation thus far– became the official launch site for the collaboration, said Mike Lansing, the executive director of the Harbor Area Boys and Girls Clubs. While $50,000 was donated, it raised the studio’s value to nearly $400,000 making it a top-notch facility.

“We were chosen as the launch site,” he said, “due to the fact our existing studio was so much more advanced than the other three and our College Bound program was already proven and aligns to the goal of combining academic success support with the studio/mentoring program.”

Wahlberg came to the ribbon cutting ceremony and openly shared his criminal days as a hard-scrabble street kid from Massachusetts where he was a Boys and Girl Club member. The police knew him well, having arrested him for assault, for which he served time in prison.

Today, it seems Wahlberg -- known for roles in “The Fighter,” “The Perfect Storm,” “Invincible” and earlier as Markee Mark in the rap group The Funky Bunch -- has spent much of his life helping young people find their way out of trouble.

Kids, he said, need the chance to create – a chance he never had when he was young -- to keep them off the streets and explore their creative souls with music, acting, animation.

Watching him in celebrity TV interviews, it’s difficult to imagine he is such a refreshing, grounded and humble man. But within a few short minutes at the Boys and Girls Club, it was clear he had captured the teens’ hearts with his genuine honesty.

“I was so happy to see him,” said 17-year-old Bradley Washington. “I had no idea he was a Boys and Girls Club member. And he never forgot where he came from. I hope to be as great as him.”

Wearing a white Boston Celtics T-shirt graced with a green shamrock and a pair of emerald sneakers (“I dressed for the occasion,” he joked), he shook more than a dozen teens’ hands, looking them directly in the eye and talking quietly as though each was an old buddy.

Many youths said they learned unforgettable lessons.

“The thing that stood out to me is it doesn’t matter where you came from,” said Angelica Arreola, a 16-year-old who attends the Wilmington Boys and Girls Club. “It’s your determination that will make you. He shook hands with the teens. It was like we were somebody. He understands that we’re the future.”

Arturo Korafi, 16, added:  “I learned that anything you want to accomplish in life you can always go after. And that I will give back whatever I have. If I don’t have money, I will volunteer to work with teens.”

Taco Bell Foundation for Teens has worked with Harbor Area Boys and Girls clubs for years, giving college scholarships for essays and hosting contests for club members to come up with a creative meal. The winners get to see their meal on Taco Bell menus for one month, not to mention a $1,000 scholarship. More than $4 million in grants will be distributed nationally to Boys and Girls Clubs and other teen organizations in 2011, according to Taco Bell.

The foundation’s driving goal is to reduce the high school dropout rate and encourage more youths to attend college. The foundation dishes out disturbing statistics such as 1.3 million students drop out of school every year and  are “lost to the graduation pipeline.”

Bob Fulmer, executive director of the Taco Bell foundation, said there’s a lot of work to do, which is why partnering with Wahlberg was the right thing to do.

Fulmer noted that the kids at the Boys and Girls Club of San Pedro have a 98 percent high school graduation rate and 90 percent go to college (with help from its College Bound program). “We love teens,” he added. That’s why the foundation wanted to partner with Wahlberg to strengthen what it can do.

In turn, Wahlberg, a  father of four who is devoted to his Catholic faith, said he “couldn’t sleep at night” if he didn’t return to the community to help–especially the children who face so many hardships today.

In Massachusetts, he said, people admired the tough guys, the “knuckleheads” with sports cars hipped to beautiful girls. Because of that, he at first ignored his mentors,  such as his priest and Boys and Girls Club employee Mike Joyce, who still works there. Wahlburg still visits Joyce and remains appreciative of his help.

Prior to his turnaround, the actor said he was attracted to crime. He believes his incarceration is a large part of what saved him. As the youngest of nine children, Wahlberg said he had to “scrap and kick” for his share of the pie.

His turn with rap music helped, but when he tried acting he knew he’d found his niche. He believes young people need to explore their creativity to its fullest, adding not everyone is going to be a football player.

While Wahlberg turned to creative outlets for youth, Tony Tripp, the San Pedro club’s music director, said the Boys and Girls Club knew they had to do something to better the facility.

“We really wanted to take it to the next level, but we didn’t know how,” Tripp said, adding that music was how he kept himself directed as a youth.  “We wanted to engage the kids more in film, music and animation.”

Then, he added, Wahlberg and Taco Bell came along, giving them the chance to expand and enhance the studio and its equipment. The club added a digital animation room, a new audio room and a sound booth.

But Wednesday wasn’t all about Wahlberg.

In a stroke of luck for the kids, a former Lakers basketball star, John Salley, who also played with the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls before retiring in 2000, showed up at the club to meet up with Wahlberg, a long-time friend.

Since his retirement, the 6-11 Salley has acted and done several shows on TV, including his own reality show. Wahlberg invited him to come to the new studio so they could record an interview and push Salley’s latest show, “Game On! with John Salley,” on Reelz Channel every Sunday.

“It was an opportunity to get together with him,” Salley explained, who added he grew up on troubled streets in Brooklyn.  “I love Mark and I think everything he does is great.”

Like Wahlberg, he spent time Wednesday signing autographs and having photos taken with club members offering them “positive energy,” he said.

Yvonne Bogdanovich, the local Boys and Girls Club “chief volunteer officer” who has served on the Harbor Area’s executive board for 17 years, summed up Wahlberg’s visit.

“Sincerity,” she said. “He was down to earth. He didn’t talk above the kids. He didn’t talk below them. He talked to them.”