Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011 | 1:55 a.m.
Map of Green Valley Library
2797 N. Green Valley Parkway, Henderson
When Tom Fay received a $25,000 check in December to fund construction of a teen lounge at the Green Valley Library, he was a little more than surprised.
“I was kind of shocked,” said Fay, executive director of Henderson Libraries. “People have donated $1,000, but it’s a rare occasion to get a donation like this in one large sum. It was very generous; it made for a great holiday.”
One might think a donation that large was from a community group or a corporation. In reality, the gift was from local philanthropist and business owner Robert "Bobby" Ellis.
The president and CEO of Snap Towing found out the Henderson Libraries had entered the Pepsi Refresh Challenge to compete against more than 1,000 community projects around the country for a $25,000 grant.
The money, if won, would help the Henderson Libraries create a Teen Lounge that would double the space available for teens to study and socialize at the Green Valley Library, 2797 N. Green Valley Parkway in Henderson.
“I just kind of figured in my own mind that the chances are nil that they are going to get that,” said Ellis, 68.
Despite efforts by the library to secure the funding, sure enough, Ellis was right. And without hesitation, Ellis said he was on the phone with Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen to discuss ways he could help.
“I said, ‘Heck, this is a great cause,” Ellis said. “It seems like the city is always pushing for these young kids to have a place to go… Kids are dropping out and not completing school. Maybe this will help keep the kids there, give them a place to study.”
That was the hope for Fay, who made the push for a teen center at the library since he saw youth attendance drop after age 14. However, facing a $2.4 million budget cut since the recession began, Fay said he was grasping at thin air until Ellis stepped up.
“It’s an interesting demographic in Green Valley. We have every socioeconomic status from those with low income to those on fixed income,” Fay said. “It’s a challenge for us to have the space and programming to fit the needs of the entire community.”
The new Teen Lounge will be partitioned from the rest of the library and have seating areas for teen events and gaming, quiet study, art, electronics, a video game library and a non-fiction book collection geared to teens. The teen room is in the design stages and is slated for completion in August 2011.
For Ellis, the new Teen Lounge is another way he’s giving back to the community. And he has been doing it in big amounts. For the last several years, Ellis and his wife, Sandy, have donated $50,000 to Nevada State College and $50,000 to Whitney Elementary School for scholarships, and to feed children breakfast and lunch. Ellis has donated more than $1 million to local schools and charities so far.
“I just sold my business (B&E Auto Auctions) three years ago and thought I’d give a little back,” he said. “When I was growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money, but at least we had a roof over our heads. A lot of these kids, they have nothing.”
Ellis is sympathetic to his beneficiaries. The Rancho High School graduate dropped out of what's now UNLV soon after orientation.
He founded Snap Towing in 1971 with one tow truck. Five years later, he started B&E Auto Auctions on an eight-acre patch of land in Henderson.
Now, Snap Towing boasts 20 towing trucks and B&E Auctions, which was sold to Insurance Auto Auctions in 2008, has grown to 40 acres.
Despite his success, Ellis said he knows those like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and even Robert Ellis are few and far between.
“I didn’t go very far in school,” he said. “My wife and I couldn’t help our son a lot when he went up to college. We helped him the best we could.
“Watching our grandkids grow up, we know that if you don’t have an education, it’s tough to get a job right now,” he continued. “The kids are the future to our next generation. If we don’t start getting them more education, we’re going to be lost.”