published on May 12, 2017 - 10:47 AM
Written by David Castellon

Back in 1995, Jack Emerian drove by an office building for rent in Fresno’s Tower District and concluded it would be a good location for the new headquarters of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central California.

“I was on the board [of directors] at the time, and we needed to find a better locations,” said Emerian, principal owner of Val Print, a Fresno printing firm, who raised $60,000 on his own to help pay for the building.

About 22 years later, that red-brick, colonial-style building at the corner of North Fulton Street and East Dudley Avenue has a for sale sign in front of it, but that’s not bad news.

That’s because the administrative staff and volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters moved in February to a larger office space across town at North Fresno Street and East Sussex Way that is partly owned by Emerian.

He said he and a partner bought it last year as an investment, and doing so realized it would make a good space for Big Brothers Big Sisters, which had outgrown the Fulton Street office.

“We had so many staff and volunteers and interns, we were on top of each other. We didn’t have space,” said Diane Phakonekham, president of the organization, which traditionally has paired up adults with children to serve as companions, mentors and role models.

After arriving in Fresno in 2011, Phakonekham said she launched the High School Bigs program here in the Valley, in which high school students mentor elementary school youths.

Over the last couple of years, that program has gained considerable traction, growing from the involvement of just two Valley high schools to the current 19.

As a result, “We are so excited that we tripled the amount of kids we serve in the four counties” — Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Madera.

That prompted the need for more staff and volunteers — along with varying numbers of interns — working at the headquarters, resulting in the space crunch.

The Fulton Street building is listed as having 4,225 square feet of space, but Phakonekham noted that part of that space is an upstairs apartment the organization rents out, so it’s not used for business.

In the new locale, Big Brothers Big Sisters occupies half of a single-story building using about 3,000 feet of office space and a 1,000-square-foot basement for storage.

That offers more space for people and furniture on the upper floor than was available in the old space, Phakonekham said.

Besides the benefit of having more work space, she said the organization is garnering additional benefits, thanks to Emerian’s generosity.

For one, even though organization is paying him and his partner $3,000 a month in rent, Emerian businessman has been donating back $500.

And Emerian has promised that after five years his interest in the entire building will be donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters, at which time the organization will no longer have to pay rent.

“He wants to leave us a legacy,” Phakonekham said. “Oh my goodness, we are extremely humbled and blessed for this wonderful gift.”

As for the reason for the donation, “Obviously, because I’m committed to the organization, and I believe in their cause,” said Emerian, who currently is the president of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central California Foundation, a fundraising arm of the organization that will receive the co-ownership.

“I think the have a tremendous impact on youth,” and the results are demonstrable, said Emerian, adding that’s why Big Brothers Big Sisters has gown by leaps and bounds, “because people have discovered how important it is.

“It really turns lives around.”

As for the Fulton Street building up for sale, it was constructed in 1961 and includes 11 parking spaces — two covered — and the upstairs apartment, currently occupied, according to the website for Boese Commercial, which is brokering the sale.

The building is being sold as is, with an asking price of  $295,000, and the website states that Boese Commercial will donate its commission to Big Brothers & Big Sisters “in support of all of the hard work and goodwill they provide to the community.”

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