Last year, the Hulk; this year, Ponch.
The Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County has announced that Erik Estrada, best known for his role as motorcycle cop Frank Poncherello on the 1977-83 TV series “CHiPs,” will speak at the club’s annual fundraising gala, Sept. 7.
Lou Ferrigno, who made his greenest mark as the title hero in the 1978-82 series “The Incredible Hulk,” but who, like Estrada, has continued a long and varied career in TV in movies, spoke at last year’s 11th annual Steak & Burger Dinner. For this September, the name has been changed and the event is billed as the 12th Annual Kids & Community Gala.
Actual steaks and burgers, together, were probably served only about two years, Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County CEO Mike Jones said, explaining the decision to rebrand the dinner.
“We’ve retitled it the Kids and Community Gala mainly because of the support that the community has given us over the last 16 years, supporting the kids of our community,” he said.
The Boys & Girls Club opened its doors in 2001, and the first of the fundraising dinners was held in 2006. Originally, volunteers grilled the beef. Now the event is catered and the menu varies.
Stories of overcoming
But one sign of continuity is that individuals famous regionally, nationally or internationally, often with stories to tell of overcoming hardship in their pasts, are lined up as keynote speakers. Like last year’s featured celebrity, Estrada grew up in a tough, working-class part of New York City. While Ferrigno was originally from Brooklyn, Estrada, who is of Puerto Rican descent, grew up in East Harlem.
Estrada’s book, “My Road from Harlem to Hollywood” was published in 1997. It describes his upbringing in a single-parent family and “the struggles of poverty and the influences that he tried to avoid on the streets of Harlem and his desire to become successful and his perseverance,” Jones said.
The gala seats Boys & Girls Club donors with some of the club’s members, school-age children and teens, who dine for free. Throughout the year, the club provides members supervised activities, including tutoring and educational enrichment as well as recreation and art.
About 350 to 375 youth are expected for the 2017 daily summer program, which opens Tuesday. Boys & Girls Club afterschool programs had a similar number of members during the school year.
The gala, which is the Boys & Girls Club’s largest annual fundraiser, last year grossed roughly $42,500, Jones reported. He hopes this year’s event will gross $45,000, netting almost $35,000 after expenses to benefit the boys and girls, he said.
The donation required to sponsor a corporate table, with seven seats plus two tickets to the meet-and-greet, has been increased from $750 to $1,000. Individual tickets are $150, and higher-level sponsorships are available. For reservations or information call (912)764-9696.
“We think that it will be another sellout crowd,” Jones said.
Before “CHiPs,” Estrada made his film debut portraying real-life Christian evangelist Nicky Cruz in the 1970 film adaptation of “The Cross and the Switchblade,” starring Pat Boone.
But the role of Officer Poncherello of the California Highway Patrol, or CHP, established Estrada as a heartthrob and a pop-culture star. In the 1980s, he had the kind of fame that put his face on lunchboxes, collector cards, T-shirts, mugs and teen magazines.
In more recent years, Estrada has appeared in various movies and TV series, acted in commercials and daytime dramas, and done some voice acting for animated series.
In 2004, Estrada starred, along with Tammy Faye Messner, Vanilla Ice and others, in the reality-show series “The Surreal Life,” which featured celebrities past their peak of previous stardom. It was a top-rated series for VH1 and The WB.
Estrada also appears in the 2017 “CHiPs” movie, released in March, but not as his original character.
In 2000, Estrada became the international face of D.A.R.E., the Drug Abuse Resistance Education campaign aimed at children. He has also served the real CHP as a spokesman for its child safety seat inspection and installation program and has represented the United Way and other charities.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.