For nearly a decade, the club was like a second home for her—a place to go after school where she found role models who listened to her and steered her in healthy directions. Today, the 2017 Youth of the Year works at the club, helping young people with their homework and serving as a role model.
“Staff members who were once my mentors are now my co-workers,” Gonzalez, 19, of Chicopee, said. “I’m glad to say I’m now giving back to club members the way staff gave to me.”
Gonzalez is precisely the kind of young person that Kevin Vann hoped would benefit from the Annual George Webb Memorial Basketball Tournament he founded in 2005 in honor of his best friend, the late George Webb, who died of cancer at age 52. The tournament is sponsored by Vann’s company, The Vann Group of Springfield, a professional services outsourcing company.
The 14th annual Webb tournament will also benefit the Boys & Girls Club, and it tips off Friday, March 9 and will run for two weeks until March 25. The event is for teams of boys and girls in grades three through eight who are not top players and wouldn’t otherwise get to play in a tournament.
“Since the tournament began, we have helped give thousands of kids a chance to play a sport and develop values that will last them a lifetime,” Vann said. “We’ve raised over $150,000 to date, and we are rapidly on our way to reaching $200,000 over the next couple of years.”
Vann said the tournament is the largest of its kind in Western Massachusetts and Northern Connecticut, drawing hundreds of spectators and 50 teams of players this year.
“Today, I know more than ever that the Boys & Girls Club of Chicopee is one of the most worthy causes we can support here in Western Mass,” Vann said. “The Club is there, every school day, for 427 kids in Chicopee—boys and girls who are predominantly from single-parent households, who otherwise would have no place to go after school, who struggle in school, and tend toward obesity.”
The club offers Power Hour Homework Help plus recognition and tracking of grades; a myriad of community volunteer opportunities; and sports programs that keep young people physically active and stimulated.
The Boys & Girls Club of Chicopee has 24 staff members and 46 volunteers, and last year, it served 2,077 youths in the region; 427 are members, and the other 1,650 are served through community outreach programs.
Fifty percent of those who are nurtured at the club are 12 and younger; the others are teenagers. Of the total served, 72 percent are in minority ethnic groups, and 91 percent are in single-parent households.
Gonzalez said, “Throughout my club experience, I have learned a lot about myself and how to be a better person. The club provides a safe space to speak freely and help kids break out of their fears of being judged.”
Vann’s friend George Webb had a deep connection to the club that the tournament recognizes. Webb played basketball at the club on Tuesday evenings, and Vann said, “He is remembered for his tireless efforts on defense and offense. He very seldom lost a match-up or game, but, when he did, he showed true sportsmanship to whoever he was playing against.”
For more information about the tournament, visit www.georgewebbtournament.org. For information on sponsorship opportunities, contact Ruth Griggs at (413) 727-3354 or email her at Ruth@rccomms.com.