A safe space. That's what the Boys & Girls Clubs of the East Valley give to more than 43,000 kids each year. But along with keeping kids out of harm's way after school lets out, the Boys & Girls Clubs enrich children's lives though their programs. Kids get creative in arts classes, learn social interaction and fitness skills in sports programs, and prepare for the future with technology courses that ensure they won't buy stock in companies that only produce floppy discs.
But the Boys & Girls Clubs impact kids beyond afterschool care. In addition to the East Valley clubs having the first Arizona club to serve a Native American community, the clubs' Ladmo branch has Mona Dixon, who was named National Youth of the Year for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in 2010.
Her path of success, encouraged by the Boys & Girls Clubs, led her from a girl homeless and worried about her family's survival to a young woman with a full ride to college and named one of the Top 28 Most Influential Black Women in America by Essence magazine.
Though the calendar maintains that it's still the 21st century, the experienced cowfolk at MD Ranch take visitors back to the Wild West with horsemanship and equestrian knowledge that's been perfected across the centuries. Joining them is a herd of well-trained horses, who itch to take riders on vigorous romps across the Sonoran Desert landscapes of San Tan Mountain Regional Park. The only outfitters in the mountains, the ranch's seasoned guides lead experienced or first-time riders along desert trails, trotting past stately cacti on all-day and sunset excursions or galloping in search of far-off coyote choruses during intense ranch rides. The herd contains a wide range of horse personalities–from horses that are safe for even the most inexperienced riders to those with enough go for seasoned cowboys. On-site trainers work with steeds and riders alike, teaching students of all ages the techniques of English and Western riding as well as basic horsemanship and equine care skills.
Chefs at Skippy's Grill & Cantina assemble fresh ingredients into Mexican and American pub grub made from scratch, filling menus with chorizo-derived spices and ham-packed sandwiches alike. Limber up chomping muscles with spicy bean dip ($6) that blends chorizo, beans, and cheese before delving into ham and swiss melts ($7.95) that compress generous portions of sliced ham between hoagie-roll halves. French dip sandwiches ($7) pile rolls high with roast beef sliced thinly and exquisitely folded into beef cranes, and the homemade linguine noodles of Steve's pasta alfredo ($11.50) stow away on fork tines and sneak into unsuspecting mouths. Mexican specialties build transcontinental bridges with carne asada burritos ($9), enchiladas ($3–$4), and enormous suspension cables hidden under tables.
The Festival of Horses parades rare breeds alongside hitch-pulling draft steeds to celebrate equine diversity, entertainment, and labor. The graceful gaits of breeds such as frisians, spanish barb mustangs, and arizona appaloosas glide across the stallion showcase’s arena, the walls of which are made from wooden remnants of the Trojan Horse tied together with Mister Ed film reels. Rows of commercial booths promote and sell their wares on the trade-show floor, where horse-lovers haggle over trailers, tack, and feed. Trot from ring to ring, absorbing the sights and sounds of horse-human demonstrations from groups such as the Golden West Cowgirls and horse soccer, a contest of skill that has confused jersey manufacturers everywhere.
AZ Grip-N-Rip Batting Cages provides a space for aspiring athletes to hone all the basics of their game. In fully-enclosed batting cages, hitters train both eyes and muscles to deal with consistent-speed pitches as the machines at the other end of the cage spit out either baseballs or softballs. Meanwhile, at soft toss stations or regulation-sized clay mounds, pitchers practice the subtle handholds that produce spin or the full body power behind a fastball. Nine coaches—many with Major League experience playing for teams like the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago White Sox, and the New York Mets—provide pointers and training regimens that really help students improve their game, running one-on-one lessons, group classes, and even baseball camps, where students learn important skills, like how to build a fire by rubbing two bats together.