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Wednesday, Jun 7, 2023

Santa Clarita Valley Jaycees Named Top Chapter in U.S.

It was around a year ago that some members of the Santa Clarita Valley Jaycees decided to take their group’s mission to a new level. They organized a trip to build an entire home from the ground up for a family in Mexico that was living in cardboard boxes on the streets of Tijuana. The supplies, travel expenses and time are all donated in the name of charity. “It’s going to a family that needs a solid roof over their head,” said Brian Koegle, the Jaycees director of governmental affairs. “To a family that needs help.” The Mexican mission is one reason the 115-member Santa Clarita Valley Jaycees last month were named the top Jaycees chapter in the United States at the national organization’s annual convention. The 9-year-old group beat out 1,500 other chapters across the country and 40 from California for the award. It’s only the second time a California chapter has won the nation’s top honor, based on the chapter’s community impact, member development and projects. Jaycees President Kristin Hampton said the chapter was recognized for its commitment not only in Santa Clarita, but around the world. “Because we were able to do that with so many people and have so many people walk away with something positive, I think the Jaycees recognized that,” she said. “This very much ties into the Jaycees’ mission as a whole.” The Tijuana home took “project of the year” in the international division. The Santa Clarita Valley Jaycees were also honored for their Santa’s Helpers Project, which provides gifts to youngsters during the holidays. The national organization also honored 2006 Jaycees President Jenny Ketchepaw for her leadership and members Laura Biery and Ketchepaw for outstanding speaking abilities. Additionally, Biery and members Todd Hampton and Dawn Abasta took first place in the nationwide debate competition. The three will now represent the U.S. in a debate with teams from around the world. A history of giving The nonprofit U.S. Junior Chamber was founded in 1920 to provide youngsters with business development, management skills, community service and training. Over the years, the group which has claimed Bill Clinton, Charles Lindbergh and Ronald Reagan as members has made a name for itself through volunteer missions, especially overseas. The Valley area has five active Jaycees groups and the Santa Clarita Valley group was founded in 1998. Some of the early organizers had plenty of plans, Koegle said, but failed to gain traction. “We had a period in Santa Clarita where we were at zero growth,” he said. It wasn’t until about two years ago that the chapter started gaining clout under former President Debbie Holbrook, now the president of the California Jaycees, Koegle said. “It’s because of the outstanding leadership of our executive board,” he said. Koegle, an attorney in the Valencia office of Poole and Shaffery who has been involved in the Jaycees for about two years, said their goal is to enrich the lives of both the youngsters and those benefiting from their charity so they’ll pass it on. In the case of the homebuilding in Mexico, for example, one condition is that the new homeowners help someone else, Koegle said. “That family has to donate a certain number of hours to an orphanage,” he said. “They have to pay it forward.” “It’s going to impact the lives of the children in the orphanage,” Hampton added. “Our impact has always been in the Santa Clarita Valley, but to know we had an impact so far away was very special.” For now, organizers are planning the annual Brenda Mehling Cancer Fund Fight It! 5k walk later this month and a local government seminar next month, Koegle said. “There are folks in my generation who don’t understand what a water board does, what schools really do,” he said. “We need to make our younger people understand.” Hampton said the Jaycees are also preparing another trip to Mexico next fall for which they expect an even larger turnout. “It was such a great opportunity to do something for a family that didn’t have anything,” she said. “To give them something that they could call their own, it was very powerful.”

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