By Kristina Houck
For nearly five years, children have learned how to live healthier lives by cooking and gardening at a yellow cottage in Solana Beach. Opened in April 2009, the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito’s Center for a Healthy Lifestyle features a teaching kitchen, classroom space and an interactive garden, offering after-school programming and summer camps for children, as well as classes for adults.
Because of the success of the center, the nonprofit organization is raising money to open a second center at the Griset Branch in Encinitas. Members of the public were invited the see the progress of the project during an open house on March 20.
“This has always been my dream,” said Del Mar resident Barbara Harper, the center’s founder. “We’re hoping to spread this to all the Boys & Girls Clubs across the nation.”
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 proposed second center at 1221 Encinitas Blvd. will feature an interactive, half-acre organic garden and commercial-like kitchen classroom.
Amanda Mascia, the children’s chef at the Center for a Healthy Lifestyle, said she is looking forward to teaching cooking classes at the Encinitas branch.
“The kids are really energetic and enthusiastic,” said Mascia, who currently teaches at the Solana Beach site. She is also creator and host of the Emmy-award winning healthy kids cooking show, “The Good Food Factory.”
“I cook really large healthy meals with them and they’re super pumped. They love it, and I have a blast,” she said. “It’s very hands-on. They do all the cooking and I guide them through it.”
Already under construction, the kitchen is expected to be completed in June. In addition to appliances and equipment, the kitchen will also be connected to a snack shop, where children will sell the food they prepare.
“Solana Beach doesn’t seem that far, but a lot more kids in Encinitas will be able to enjoy this,” Mascia said. “There are a lot of children here who are really excited about it because they haven’t been able to participate before.”
To date, the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito has raised $100,000 for the kitchen. The organization needs another $25,000 to complete the first phase, and an additional $125,000 to create the garden, which is the second phase of the project.
Construction of the garden — which will feature trees, plants, an orchard, an herb garden, a greenhouse, picnic tables, benches and more — is set to begin in the summer.
“Kids will learn how to eat healthy and live a healthier life, and they will also learn other skills they can use later in life,” said Harper, who encouraged community members to consider contributing to the project through sponsorships, naming opportunities and donations. “This project covers so many aspects.”
For more information about the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito, visit bgcsandieguito.org.
To learn more about the project or to donate, visit