La Verne Magazine
Summer 2003

‘Building Good Citizenship’ The Civitan Way

by Oscar de León
photography by Bailey Porter

Working together to bring happiness to others, the San Dimas Civitan Club and the Pomona Valley Special Olympics annually co-sponsor a bowling event. Competitors Carolyn Nelson, Special Olympics area director, and Benjamin Aguirre, a 25-year Special Olympics athlete, participate in the San Dimas Chaparral Lanes event. Civitan International was a major component of the Special Olympics’ founding in 1968.

Want to make an impact in today’s society? Look no further than the San Dimas Civitan Club. The SDCC is a small branch of the Civitan International, an association of community service clubs helping people with disabilities and economic disadvantages in other states and around the world. Their mission is helping others through hands-on projects in local communities, including San Dimas, La Verne and Pomona. “There are about 32,000 members in nearly 1,200 clubs throughout the world,” says Chris Branam, current SDCC president. The first Civitan Club was established in 1917 by Dr. Courtney W. Shropshire, a prominent Birmingham physician. More than 50,000 members live in 40 U.S. states and 19 countries.

Bill Bowden, Lou Jimenez and Tom Runnells founded the SDCC seven years ago. Bowden, a San Dimas resident and retired elementary school teacher started his community service by joining the Azusa Civitan Club. “I felt the need to contribute to the community in other ways besides teaching at elementary schools,” says Bowden, who has been a Civitan for about 50 years. Branam became a Civitan after helping with a car show where money was raised for the Azusa Civitan Club. Branam thought that it would be a good idea to bring that type of assistance to his own community. He was elected president of the SDCC not long after joining and has been in charge for the past five years. When the SDCC was started, there were about 50 members, but the membership has been dropping. Bowden explains that various members “had to move on. We need young people to get involved.” Ten people currently run the SDCC. Although they have been doing an amazing job, Branam asks for young community members to help continue their tradition.

The SDCC aids the community in many ways, including buying shoes for elementary school students who can’t afford them. The SDCC works with the “Shoes That Fit” organization, donating shoes for 11 years. Money is raised through car shows every year at the Fairplex in Pomona. SDCC secretary and treasurer Tamara Latham goes to local stores, buys about 80 pairs of shoes and takes them to Ekstrand Elementary School in San Dimas. “The most rewarding thing is to see the little children’s faces when they receive their new shoes,” she says. “Many of them have not worn shoes of quality brands before, and when they see the ones we give them, they get very excited.”

Another instance of the Civitans’ community support was September 2002 during the Williams fire in the Angeles National Forest. The fire burned nearly 38,000 acres of land in and around the forest and destroyed 62 homes and cabins in San Dimas Canyon. “We collected clothing from different members and donated it to the local residents,” Bowden says. “Everybody lost everything, and I wished we would have been able to help with more,” Latham says. “Unfortunately we did not have the money to do so.”

Another SDCC project is the “Candy Box Project,” in which the SDCC sets out boxes of candy at local restaurants and asks customers to donate a few cents if they partake in any sweets . “One year, we collected over $20,000 in pocket change,” Branam says. The money goes to the Club’s largest project, the Civitan International Research Center in Alabama. The CIRC studies the development of the central nervous system and focuses on clinical neurosciences, developmental neurobiology, human development and social ecology. The CIRC offers many clinical services, some of which include audiology, pediatrics, psychiatry, dentistry, physical therapy and optometry.

The SDCC’s service doesn’t stop here. They also sponsor an annual bowling event with the Pomona Valley Special Olympics. The event offers the disabled an opportunity to participate and win prizes.

“Everybody wins,” Branam says. “One year, I won a big trophy that read my name, and that I won it because I had scored the highest points in many consecutive games,” participant Benjamin Aguirre says. According to Aguirre’s mother, Josefina, Benjamin was run over by a car at age 4. “I have been taking care of him ever since,” she says. “We actually take care of each other.” Aguirre’s mother has medical problems with her legs, and it’s difficult for her to walk. The only type of recreation that Aguirre has is participating in the bowling tournaments that the SDCC puts together every year. “I enjoy my life,” Benjamin says.

The SDCC also helps to plan events for the Pomona Valley Special Olympics in May. “We also help with decorations for four handicapped dances a year for the city of La Verne,” Branam says. The Civitan Club donates money or clothing to other clubs like House of Ruth, an organization that helps abused women and children.

The club meets the first and third Thursdays of each month at 6 p.m., at the Senior Citizen/Community Center in San Dimas. For information, call Tamara Latham at (909) 592-6200 or Chris Branam at (909) 599-7741.