As their own kids leave the nest, sports dads unite to empower at-risk teens in Tustin

Once upon a time, they bonded over Little League, flag football and Indian Princess Guides. Then their children grew up.

Suddenly, the Tustin fathers needed another excuse to socialize.

“We had been hanging out for such a long time, and now our kids were moving on to the next phase,” said Jeff Herrell, 52, a sales executive. “We looked at each other and went, ‘Now what?’”

  • Dan Tafoya, Jon Wilcox and Jeff Fowler, from left, prepare for the 5 Boroughs Book Club annual golf tournament at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Dan Tafoya, Jon Wilcox and Jeff Fowler, from left, prepare for the 5 Boroughs Book Club annual golf tournament at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Two of the founding members of the 5 Boroughs Book Club, Kevin Kodzis, left, and Kurt James, pose for a photo before their annual golf tournament at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Two of the founding members of the 5 Boroughs Book Club, Kevin Kodzis, left, and Kurt James, pose for a photo before their annual golf tournament at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Dan Tafoya, Jon Wilcox and Jeff Fowler, from left, prepare for the 5 Boroughs Book Club annual golf tournament at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Dan Tafoya, Jon Wilcox and Jeff Fowler, from left, prepare for the 5 Boroughs Book Club annual golf tournament at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Members of the 5 Boroughs Book Club, a philanthropic organization that raises money for and devotes time to Hillview High School and Habitat for Humanity, pose for a photo before their annual golf tournament at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Members of the 5 Boroughs Book Club, a philanthropic organization that raises money for and devotes time to Hillview High School and Habitat for Humanity, pose for a photo before their annual golf tournament at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Miguel Guardado, 18, of Santa Ana, left, and David Quinonez, 17, of Tustin, are students at Hillview High School, one of the recipients of the 5 Boroughs Book Club annual golf tournament at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Miguel Guardado, 18, of Santa Ana, left, and David Quinonez, 17, of Tustin, are students at Hillview High School, one of the recipients of the 5 Boroughs Book Club annual golf tournament at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Founding members Kevin Kodzis and Kurt James chat before the 5 Boroughs Book Club annual golf tournament at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Founding members Kevin Kodzis and Kurt James chat before the 5 Boroughs Book Club annual golf tournament at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The 5 Boroughs Book Club, a philanthropic organization that raises money for and devotes time to Hillview High School and Habitat for Humanity, prepare for their annual golf tournament at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The 5 Boroughs Book Club, a philanthropic organization that raises money for and devotes time to Hillview High School and Habitat for Humanity, prepare for their annual golf tournament at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Golfers warm up on the practice green before the 5 Boroughs Book Club annual golf tournament at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Golfers warm up on the practice green before the 5 Boroughs Book Club annual golf tournament at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Jeff Herrell, a board member of the 5 Boroughs Book Club, a philanthropic organization that raises money for and devotes time to Hillview High School and Habitat for Humanity, prepares to to head out for their annual golf tournament at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Jeff Herrell, a board member of the 5 Boroughs Book Club, a philanthropic organization that raises money for and devotes time to Hillview High School and Habitat for Humanity, prepares to to head out for their annual golf tournament at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

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They struck upon an idea: Let’s keep working together with kids – just not our own.

Two years ago, a dozen dads founded the nonprofit 5 Boroughs Book Club to lend a hand at Hillview High continuation school. Sponsored by Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Tustin, the nondenominational organization has since grown to 70 members.

“The name was inspired by Tustin’s five distinct districts, in the spirit of New York City,” Herrell said. “While we were coaching different sports teams from different neighborhoods, friendship grew out of rivalry.”

And, “book club”? Do they actually discuss literature?

It’s an attempt at humor, Herrell explained: “Our wives always go to ‘book club’ but never read the book. They go for the wine.”

Honoring that tradition, the men meet monthly over beer and pizza to plan their next philanthropic act. In addition to volunteering as mentors at Hillview, they donate elbow grease to Habitat for Humanity – building houses for people in need.

On Friday morning, Feb. 9, the buddies gathered at Tustin Ranch Golf Club for their first big fundraiser.

Attracting 130 participants, the tournament brought in around $30,000. The money will go toward scholarships for Hillview graduates to attend college or receive job training.

Before tee time, the pals mingled over Bloody Marys and a shared enthusiasm for their “book club.”

“Our kids have been blessed to grow up with financial and parental support,” said real estate developer Greg Vujnov, 57. “We want all kids in our community to have the opportunity to be successful.”

5 Boroughs Book Club members frequently visit Hillview to speak in classrooms about career paths and promote the advantages of community college.

“The students are always stunned to learn that most of us started at local junior colleges,” Vujnov said. “They assume we got picked up in a limo to go to USC.”

In smaller groups, the men mentor mostly boys about life skills such as resumes, job interviews and college applications.

“We show them how to interview and how not to interview,” said business owner Kevin Kodzis, 52.

Many of the boys don’t live with a father figure, said Matt Hudack, 54, a financial planner. “What happens after they’re done with TUSD?” he asked. “They don’t have a male role model guiding them to the next step.”

As 5 Boroughs Book Club seeks to help at-risk kids, it simultaneously provides members “an on-ramp to get involved in our community,” said Kurt James, 62, a marketing director.

And, the organization gives a new rallying cry to friends who united on the sidelines of their kids’ games.

“It’s easy to drift apart after your kids grow up,” James said. “While finding ways to empower another generation of young people, we are maintaining our longtime friendships.”

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