When George Tsoris was a child in the 1930s, the Boys Club in Milwaukee had a profound effect on him. When the neighborhood kids played outside, he was at the club nearly every single day. Tsoris called it his safe haven filled with fun, games and memories of a summer camp in Northern Wisconsin.
Now 90 years old, this Oceanside resident decided a few years ago to pay it forward and volunteer as a poetry teacher at the Boys & Girls Club of Vista. CEO Matt Koumaras of the Boys & Girls Club of Vista noticed Tsoris’ dedication. So much in fact, that Koumaras nominated Tsoris for the 2018 Maytag Dependable Leader Award and Tsoris was selected from more than 175 nominations.
“George always says that poetry comes from the heart,” Koumaras said. “I can’t think of a person that has a bigger heart for changing lives for kids than George. He is an inspiration.”
According to Ellen Clark, the director of development for the Boys & Girls Club of Vista, the Maytag Dependable Leader Award is a national recognition for those who exemplify dedicated service to the children who attend the Boys & Girls Club. It can be given to both employees and volunteers and has been in existence for the past nine years — this year, two people were chosen.
In addition to this leadership award, the Boys & Girls Club of Vista will also receive a $20,000 grant from the Maytag Corporation.
“This grant is for scholarships such as with our Youth of the Year program, which recognizes the contributions of youth to their club, school, community and family as well as for academic success, healthy lifestyles, leadership and obstacles overcome,” Clark said. “The grant will also be used for career development for our youth.”
This is the first time that the Boys & Girls Club of Vista has ever received this award for its club.
Tsoris has volunteered at the club for the last four years. Clark said that he drops by once a week bringing poetry and prose alive to the kids enrolled in his Poetry Club.
“Poetry Club members know without a doubt that they are heard, valued and known by George,” she said. “They are excited about their class and engage fully in the inspirational songs and poems that they learn.”
Tsoris wants everyone to know what an honor it was to receive an award of this magnitude.
“I am grateful for this award because it brought $20,000 to the club and the money goes for scholarships and to further the goals of the club,” Tsoris said. “This helps the children. I never expected anything like this award. As a result, I’ve been able to see the work being done all over the country through the Boys & Girls Clubs.”
Tsoris said being with kids is very uplifting.
“It makes me see their zest for life they have, and it rubs off — I learn from them,” Tsoris said. “Recently I observed a child’s eyes shine as she was saying the words of a poem, this makes me glad.”
Tsoris shared that he was first exposed to the art of poetry when he was in fourth grade. It sparked a passion — a passion that he wants to teach other children.
“Today schools are not paying much attention to poetry, and I was looking for a place to tell about it,” he said. “I believe it can help kids who have trouble reading with the words. By learning a poem by memory, they gain confidence, and that helps improve their ability to read. I teach a lot of nonsense poems because that’s what the kids enjoy. Poems also come from the heart and can help kids express their feelings.”