Youth center coming back to south Merced park

Thaddeus Miller
MercedSunStar.com 11/30/2014

Youth advocates are celebrating something of a victory after receiving approval last week to run the McNamara Park Youth Center in Merced.

With a unanimous vote, the Merced City Council gave a team of five nonprofits the keys to the building where after-school programs for underprivileged youths will be offered in the coming months. With the vote, the council agreed to put $24,000 into the building this year – about $16,000 for renovations and $7,500 for the year’s utilities.

The three-year contract to staff the building with volunteers was awarded to a coalition of nonprofits: Symple Equazion, Lifeline CDC, Mentoring Odd Jobs Organization, Potter’s Place and Merced Calvary Assembly of God (also called the Isaiah Project).

“This is the first time that we’re working together but we all are passionate about young people and community development work,” said Monika Grasley, the executive director of Lifeline. “We’re very excited about working together and making it really an example, as well, to the community.”

She said each nonprofit brings its own set of skills to the center, which could offer a range of services to young people. Some of the groups specialize in developing leadership or job skills, while others focus on providing tutoring and recreation.

The coalition will begin to make plans for the center, she said. As soon as the building is ready, she said, youth services will be available five days a week, with other programs to follow in time. She stressed that the team will need volunteers from the surrounding community to staff the building.

Through the last few years, youth advocates have clamored for the city to put money and staff into programs that focus on young people. Many of the advocates voiced their displeasure during this year’s budget talks when the council did not agree to their requests for funding, some of which were as high as $300,000.

Ultimately, the council voted to set the $24,000 aside but waited for a group of volunteers to step forward before renovating the center.

“I’m delighted beyond words of those who have offered to do this work,” Mayor Stan Thurston said.

He went on to say the nonprofits have a proven track record of success with young people.

City staff members estimate that the renovations to the center could be underway in about a month. The fields in the park are another story.

The almost 9-acre south Merced park was marked for a face-lift in spring 2013, one that would put about $2.6 million in state grant money into the roughly 70-year-old park.

Though city officials were expecting the 1040 Canal St. park to be ready in April, the uneven artificial pitch has city leaders in negotiations with contractors regarding who will fix the depressions in the field.

As a result, city officials have said they are uncertain when the renovations to the fields will be complete.

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