First published in the Jan. 22 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
One score and seven years ago a small group of Burbankers brought forth, upon this community, a new Boys & Girls Club conceived in love and dedicated to the proposition that all young people should be inspired and enabled to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens.
This past Sunday, close to 200 supporters of the Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and the Greater East Valley gathered to officially dedicate the downtown structure the club calls home as the Al & Liz Shapiro Building.
Born in Los Angeles as Elizabeth Feeney, Liz went on to attend Notre Dame College in Cleveland, Ohio, prior to founding the Neighborhood School Planning Corporation in Chatsworth. As the president of that nonprofit corporation, she organized volunteers who built a school for 450 students, oversaw all areas of operation, site curriculum, fundraising and even taught journalism and English. During the summers, she ran the Ranch Club Day Camp on the school’s campus.
In 1979, Liz married Al and began helping him with his printing brokerage business, A&L Graphico, which, in 1999, became LAgraphico. In 2003, the company moved to Burbank and formed Midnight Oil Creative, which today employs almost 200 people.
In 1995, a chance meeting between former Burbank City Councilman Tim Murphy and Liz sparked her interest in Murphy’s passion to establish a Boys & Girls Club in Burbank. She enthusiastically joined in with a small group of like-mined people who worked with the city to take over a decommissioned city fire station as the club’s first home. The Shapiros put up the initial seed money to incorporate the club, and then took on the responsibility of making sure the club’s costs and payroll were met for its first five years of operation.
Having battled cancer for many years, 1988 saw Liz undergo a stem-cell replacement, which prolonged her life until Aug. 25, 2004, when she died at the age of 57.
Having left this earth with the hope that the club would someday have a larger facility to meet their ever-growing needs, Liz’s husband and son, Dan Stillwell, took over her role on the youth organization’s board. Their work, along with that of others, saw Liz’s dream become a reality this past year as they purchased a building that once housed Burbank’s chapter of the Salvation Army.
“This is the fulfillment of an amazing accomplishment,” Stillwell said as people arrived for last week’s dedication. “This was my mother’s dream, and here we are, all these years later — after many starts and stops — seeing it as a reality.”
As a part of the dedication ceremony, Al was more surprised than anyone. Under the belief that the facility would be christened the Liz Shapiro Building, it was only when the signage was unveiled that he learned his name would also be included in the honor.
Presiding over Sunday’s ceremony, Shanna Warren, the club’s CEO, told the assemblage that the reason they were all together on that day was because of Liz.
“In the early days, the saving grace for this club was due to Liz’s passion and financial commitment,” Warren said. “Her legacy lives on, not just in her name and the bronze bust that stands in front of our building, but in the hearts of our board members, our staff and our club members.”
Both Stillwell and Al made brief comments during the ceremony, pointing out that over the past 27 years the club has gone from a struggling entity of 75 kids to a thriving club that now serves more than 3,000 young people and operates with an annual budget of $4.3 million.
“Although she would have been bothered by all the attention placed on her today, she would have been thrilled and proud of the work and commitment of so many people who shared her dream and made it happen,” Stillwell said. “So, maybe, by working together, we have come to point in which we have filled at least one of mom’s shoes.”
Among the many special guests in attendance for Sunday’s ceremony were state Sen. Anthony Portantino, Vice Mayor Konstantine Anthony, City Councilman Bob Frutos, Police Commission member Romik Hacobian, and many members of Liz Shapiro’s family, including her children, Dan and Tom Stillwell, Brandon Gabriel, Anna Lasher, Vicki Charity and Sandi Broad.
Along with club board members, staff and artist Nan Butler Beckstrom, who created the bronze bust of Liz, other notables who joined the gathering were three members of the club’s founding group, former Mayor Marsha Ramos, former City Councilman Murphy and longtime youth supporter Tom Jamentz. Former Mayor Dave Golonski, who represented his late wife, Barbara Sykes, who was also a founding member, was also in attendance for the special occasion.
DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at email@example.com or (818) 563-1007.