High-Roller Youth Services Offer Views, Activities Bill of Fare: A 'Security Blanket' Called Clint Eastwood

Jill Wolfson
November 1, 1997

“We have the opposite situation from most youth centers. We get slow in the summer,” says Executive Director Pat Lenz of the Carmel Youth Center. “There are so many split families here. In the summer, the kids are off visiting mom or dad somewhere else.”

The youth of Carmel have many of the same problems and needs of youth in other parts of the country, Lenz is quick to point out. Divorce, child abuse, inattentive parents and substance abuse do not respect economic and geographic boundaries. Typically, the 20,000-square foot drop-in center has been attracting 40 to 50 boys and girls a day, “our biggest year ever,” he says.

A former construction worker, Lenz began his involvement with the center when a friend invited him to work out in the weight room, which is open and free of charge after hours, to members of the city’s police and fire departments. Lenz started volunteering around the center, fixing things up, and talking to the students. When he hurt his knee and couldn’t work, someone suggested he apply for the then-open director’s job.

“Me?” he told them. “I don’t have a recreation degree. I’m just a slob construction worker.”

Top Shape, Fund-wise

But he got the job and when he started, the center was practically broke. His first step in “turning the place around” was to “get rid of the janitor and start doing the work myself.” Lenz got involved in the grant-writing process and began a four-phase remodeling project. The most recently completed phase was to repair the front entry and make the building handicapped accessible. “I could make the money go a lot further because I could do most of the work myself,” he says.

Today, the center is in “its best financial shape in a long time.” Lenz estimates that his operating budget is $10,000 a month. He is the center’s sole year-round, full-time employee, and as such, he does multi-duty as the center’s bookkeeping, fundraising, publicity, maintenance, janitorial and weight-room staff. “I’m still cleaning the toilets,” he says.

Open six days a week to students age 12-20, the center is primarily a drop-in center. There is a snack bar, staffed by local high school students with financial needs. “Yes,” Lenz says, “there are kids in this area with financial needs.” There are dances about once a month, but few other organized events. “My philosophy is to let the kids use their imaginations,” Lenz says. “Let this be their place. Move the furniture around if they want.”

The center dates back to 1949 when Pebble Beach resident Bing Crosby – the man who brought the world “White Christmas” – also brought America more than 200 youth centers around the country. Of the centers he helped to establish, The Carmel Center remains the only privately run one still in existence.

The center reached its peak of popularity in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s when it was the only place for teens in the city. By the ‘70s, teens found other things to do and the center fell into despair. In the 1980s, “parents were becoming worried about drugs and sex and peer pressure on their children to participate in such activities. It was time to revitalize the center,” according to a center publication.

Golf Dependent

Board members, including some of the original teens who are now adults living and working in Carmel-By-The-Sea, started cleaning up the place. Clint Eastwood was then mayor and supported the project.

Today, the center attracts up to 300 youth for special events and dances. The center receives no funding from the city or any other government agency. Once a year, 300 local volunteers staff the concession stands at the nearby AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and receive a “donation” for the effort.

“Our main fund-raiser is the golf tournament,” says Lenz. “It works out great, except for the year that the golf tournament got rained out. We didn’t make enough money and didn’t know what we were going to do.”

Clint Eastwood came to the rescue. He had a new movie opening and decided to stage its world premier in neighboring Monterey—with all proceeds going to the Carmel Youth Center. That one event made up the difference.

Says Lenz: “People come in here and say. ‘Oh, this is the place that Clint Eastwood owns’; he doesn’t own it, but he’s a great security blanket.”

Wolfson, Jill. “‘High-Roller’ Youth Services Offer Views, Activities Bill of Fare: A 'Security Blanket' Called Clint Eastwood." Youth Today, November/December 1997, p. 51.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.