Eagle Rock Yacht Club Throws Dodgeballs, Not Galas

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Author: Griffin Mead

Before protective parents nationwide successfully petitioned to ban the game in elementary schools, dodgeball was king: a fast-paced, fun and brutally competitive game more exciting than four-square, more difficult than kickball and more unpredictable than tetherball. As students grow older, these youthful games fade away, and concerns for grades, relationships and the basic prevention of black eyes take precedence over the exhilaration of throwing and dodging foam balls and the triumph of a firm hit. We grow up, go to college and volunteer in the community, dodgeball-free. Typically, responsible adult social activism of this sort occurs through classic outlets like charities, food banks and shelters. But now, for one local organization, it happens through dodgeball too. The Eagle Rock Yacht Club, an organization that cultivates both a childlike exuberance and a mature civic awareness, aims to bring the fun of socializing and playing dodgeball to the world of community activism.

Los Angeles natives Chris Alves and Craig Fowler founded the Eagle Rock Yacht Club in 2008 after having disappointing experiences in dodgeball leagues around Los Angeles. Determined that participating in dodgeball leagues could be a positive and charitable experience, the pair decided to create their own dodgeball club with friendlier participants and an altruistic spin.

The club hosts dodgeball games and league tournaments and the proceeds from their registration fees are donated to organizations like the Los Angeles Food Bank. Games take place in a variety of locations and are divided into three chapters, the North Side League in North Hollywood, the West Side League in Venice Beach and the East Side League on Verdugo Road in nearby Glassell Park. The club is headquartered and run at a central office in downtown L.A.

According to Alves, the club draws in all types of people. “City planners, artists, recent transplants to Los Angeles. We want to attract civic-minded do-gooder types that are willing and able to use their knowledge and skills to better the community,” he said.

Marketing for the club is almost entirely by word of mouth, without any help from advertisements. “If we advertised,” Alves said, “I feel like we would attract a completely different player.” As one participant who reviewed the club on Yelp put it, “No douchebag meatheads in this league. If that describes you, you should probably go play somewhere else (and not be such a douchebag).”

The club’s name – the Eagle Rock Yacht Club – can be misleading at first glance. Only an oblivious and very misinformed person could mistake colorful Eagle Rock for an upscale maritime location. While being named after a type of club rife with connotations of corporate greed, luxury and excess, the Eagle Rock Yacht Club is conversely a small, selfless organization with community service at its core.

Outreach at the Yacht Club does not end at dodgeball. Alves and Fowler were determined to use the social groups they had built through dodgeball to address other needs throughout the community, so the club’s 12 to 15 board members have set about creating and hosting projects year-round. An example: over the past few years, funding for public parks has decreased dramatically. Because of this, parks often close on Sundays to balance the costs of running lights and providing and maintaining facilities. There are, however, permits available for purchase which allow a group to use the park on off-days and pay for the expenses involved in running the park. The Yacht Club buys up permits and uses them to keep the parks open at nights and on weekends when kids need safe places to congregate.

Art programs within schools have also suffered severe public funding cuts. Noting the lack of accessibility to the arts and creative means of expression, the Club recently purchased a silk screen printing press, which has allowed them to host T-shirt printing parties. Kids and adults from the community come together to print shirts; both age groups have a good, wholesome time creating art in a positive environment.

Spontaneous assistance to the community is another aspect of the club’s philanthropic mission. In one instance, a newly formed youth rock band lacked a bass guitar necessary to round out its sound. The need was brought up in one of the club’s meetings and within days a bass was donated to the band.

Collaboration with other organizations is also widely present. “Whether it’s fighting breast cancer, walking to beat AIDS or improving the lives of at-risk youth, we strive to create platforms that allow people to volunteer in fun and creative ways,” Alves said. This sums up the club’s and its efforts towards volunteering. Volunteering is not effective in one event; rather, its effects accrue over time, as interested groups of people come together, over and over again, to work together for the greater good.

Though the club is based entirely in Los Angeles at the moment, Alves and Fowler see no reason why their concept could not be transposed to other locations throughout the U.S., especially to metro areas like San Francisco and Detroit. The recreation centers are the test beds for how easily the atmosphere of the club can be maintained, while still allowing a level of autonomy at the individual chapter level.

All of these activities and outreach initiatives require money and volunteers to operate. As  mentioned before, dues from the dodgeball leagues go towards donations for charities and payment for the events. The club has also branched out to creating its own wit-filled merchandise. It is hard to miss the large “Don’t be a Dick” prints, and even the humorously written product descriptions (“Everyone will know what a philanthropic baller you are,” reads one) highlight the fun, positive approach the club takes to its mission and events.

In the three years the club has been in existence, its ranks have grown dramatically. With over 300 members to date, the initial proactive duo has grown into a large group with actual clout. The club itself is now officially recognized as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, a feat which Alves described as the result of  “willpower, magic wands and a whole lot of luck.”

In 10 years, the
Yacht Club hopes to become an alternative to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. The goal is to make volunteering compelling and even ‘cool,’ and to avoid what Alves calls that ‘tear in your eye’ mentality that so often pervades volunteerism. A feel-good atmosphere with fun, clever ways to get involved in the community distinguishes the Eagle Rock Yacht Club from traditional methods of giving back.

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