Lobdell: St. Harlan needs your tithings

February 17, 2011|By William Lobdell

If the Pope asked me to nominate just one candidate for sainthood from our community, my answer would be easy: Harlan Andersen.

If you don't know him, then you probably didn't grow up in the Newport-Mesa area — or have children.

For nearly 40 years, Harlan has worked at the various branches of the Boys & Girls Club of the Harbor Area, serving as the ultimate role model — kind, gentle, understanding, patient and funny — for thousands of kids each year.

I've watched Harlan humbly go about his job for 17 years now as my four sons played basketball at the Lou Yantorn Branch in Eastside Costa Mesa. Amid the din of controlled chaos that surrounds him each day, I've never seen Harlan — a big man with a graying buzz cut who played basketball at Chapman University well enough to be inducted into the college's Hall of Fame — lose his temper and snap at a kid.


Or a parent, for that matter.

In fact, the 60-year-old seems to delight in figuring out the more troubled children, and, in the past, he's taken flack from his superiors for not barring perpetual troublemakers from the club.

"Where else would they go?" Harlan asked Thursday when I talked with him at his small office inside the Eastside branch. "People need to remember we're talking about kids, little kids who are still developing. I always try to keep that in mind and be as positive as possible."

He said the club members haven't changed much over the years.

"They want to hang out with friends, they want to play games, and they want a place where they belong," Harlan said.

I went to the Boys & Girls Club to hear about an amazing event Harlan has dreamed up: an alumni reunion night on May 21. He's inviting the tens of thousands of men and women who had been members of the Boys & Girls Club at any of the Harbor Area branches. You can find out more on Facebook (Boys & Girls Club of the Harbor Area), where some great vintage photos of the club can be found.

The night will also serve as a fundraiser of sorts, with tickets costing $50. The four branches — Westside, Eastside, Eastbluff and Irvine, which collectively serve about 5,000 children each year with after-school and sports programs — operate on a shoestring budget of $1.2 million.

With funding from charities dwindling, the club has been forced to hit the children with more fees and put off non-essential spending. For instance, the rickety bleachers at the Eastside branch were taken and well-used from a USC gym in 1967.

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