Boys and Girls club celebrates new kitchen at Encinitas branch

For more than five years, children have learned how to lead healthier lives at the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito’s Center for a Healthy Lifestyle in Solana Beach. Opened in April 2009, the yellow cottage features a teaching kitchen, classroom space and a garden, offering children’s after-school programming and summer camps, as well as adult classes.

Because of the center’s success, the nonprofit is constructing a second center at the Griset Branch in Encinitas. The public was invited to tour the branch’s new kitchen during an open house June 20.

Completed June 18, the teaching kitchen features a refrigerator, oven, stovetop and hood, sink, cabinets and shelves, as well as classroom space.

“I have kids of my own, so it’s very important to me that we educate our children about making healthier choices,” said Chef Matthew Purnell, who serves nutritious dishes and teaches healthy cooking classes at the Solana Beach center. He was at the Encinitas branch to see the new kitchen, and he was thrilled with the results. “What I do and what the center does goes hand in hand. They’re all about teaching children, adults and the community about making healthier choices.”

To expand its programs, the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito opened a garden at its Del Mar Branch in May 2011, and another garden at its La Colonia Branch in November 2012. Mirrored after the first center at 533 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, the second center at 1221 Encinitas Blvd. will feature a half-acre interactive organic garden, in addition to the commercial-style kitchen classroom.

Located behind the gym at the center, the garden will feature trees, plants, an orchard, an herb garden, a greenhouse, picnic tables, benches and more. It will be completed during the summer.

At the open house, Point Loma artist Ryan Preece, known as “Zoke,” finished painting a roughly 60-by-22-foot mural of a farm, complete with animals and crops, on the back of the gym. Donors will be recognized along the wall on the side of the gym.

“It’s therapeutic and very rewarding for the kids,” said Constanze Christopher, garden coordinator at the Center for a Healthy Lifestyle. A professional gardener since 1998, Christopher earned a landscape design certificate from Cuyamaca College.

As garden coordinator, Christopher works with children at the Solana Beach center. Now, she will also work with kids at the Encinitas center, leading a new camp in July, which is still open for registration.

Initially, the Center for a Healthy Lifestyle opened registration for eight summer camps. All the camps sold out in May, with almost 150 children enrolled.

Because the sessions sold out so quickly and the garden has progressed, staff recently added another summer cooking camp. Inspired by Chef Alice Waters, a pioneer of farm-to-table cuisine, the camp will run July 21-25 at the Griset Branch. Campers ages 8-14 will learn about compost, propagate plants from seeds, and build worm bins. They will also develop culinary skills, learning to make pasta, pesto and more.

“With the children being in the garden — planting and harvesting — it inspires them to eat healthy,” Christopher said. “They’re less hesitant to try something new because of their hands-on experience. It expands their horizon.”

The Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito has raised $135,000 for the kitchen. The organization still needs a variety of appliances, cookware, flatware and other supplies.

With the kitchen complete, the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito will now focus on the garden, the second phase of the project. The garden is estimated to cost $115,000 and is scheduled to be complete by the end of summer or early fall. The organization needs to raise $50,000 to complete the project.

For more about the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito, visit bgcsandieguito.org.

To learn about the project, donate or sign up for the summer camp, visit centerforahealthylifestyle.org.

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