302014Dec

South Merced excited about new digs for youths

There was standing room only Tuesday in the McNamara Park Youth Center as scores of people gathered to celebrate the reopening of the newly refurbished building in south Merced.

Elected officials, nonprofit leaders and members of the community came for their first chance to lay eyes on the freshly painted and carpeted center inside the 8.7-acre park on Canal Street.

A coalition of nonprofits has teamed up to run the drop-in center as a safe place where young people can have fun and be constructive after school.

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A youth takes pictures with his cellphone of guest speakers under a sign that reads “No Bully Zone” inside the newly refurbished McNamara Park Youth Center on Tuesday, when a packed house got its first look at the upgrades.

Barbara Roland, 70, who lives down the street from the park, said she was there to celebrate the reopening because she believes it can do a lot of good for young people in the community. “That’s what’s wrong with kids nowadays – they don’t think they’re worth nothing,” she said. “They don’t know the power they have in them.”

Giving young people a place to belong, where they feel valued, can go a long way, she said. “They can get a feeling of being proud to be from Merced, and that the city of Merced is doing something on the south side for the youth,” she said.

After a ceremonial ribbon-cutting, the crowd poured into the center, which has sat dormant for about three years. City staff said the building went up in the late 1940s and was once a fire station.

Sapphire Oseguera, 16, said she believes the center can help young people who are headed in the wrong direction. She should know, because she was once in that situation. The high school junior said that a few years ago she was regularly ditching school, taking drugs and on the verge of being expelled for fighting.

Merced Mayor Stan Thurston cuts the ribbon outside the newly refurbished McNamara Park Youth Center on Tuesday, when a packed house got its first look at the upgrades.

Barbara Roland, 70, who lives down the street from the park, said she was there to celebrate the reopening because she believes it can do a lot of good for young people in the community. “That’s what’s wrong with kids nowadays – they don’t think they’re worth nothing,” she said. “They don’t know the power they have in them.”

Giving young people a place to belong, where they feel valued, can go a long way, she said. “They can get a feeling of being proud to be from Merced, and that the city of Merced is doing something on the south side for the youth,” she said.

After a ceremonial ribbon-cutting, the crowd poured into the center, which has sat dormant for about three years. City staff said the building went up in the late 1940s and was once a fire station.

Sapphire Oseguera, 16, said she believes the center can help young people who are headed in the wrong direction. She should know, because she was once in that situation. The high school junior said that a few years ago she was regularly ditching school, taking drugs and on the verge of being expelled for fighting.

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Jerome Rasberry Jr. and Sapphire Oseguera, who are both part of Mentoring Odd Jobs Organization, speak with others inside the newly refurbished McNamara Park Youth Center on Tuesday. The center is set to open Jan. 10.

She was able to correct her behavior, she said, because she got involved with leaders from two of the nonprofits running the center – Symple Equazion and Mentoring Odd Jobs Organization. “It’s a good youth program,” she said. “It can change your life. I know it helped me.”

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.

Dee Dee Claunch, founder of the Isaiah Project, said she was excited about the chance the center will give her to expand her program. “We’ll be able to open up to new children or young people,” she said.

In October, the city of Merced agreed to pay for $16,500 in upgrades, which included the paint job, new carpet, kitchen cabinets, an alarm system and changes that brought the building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The city also agreed to pay an estimated $7,500 for a year’s worth of utilities.

Napoleon Washington, who serves on the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, said the groups and people who have volunteered to run the center are a “godsend,” because he believes they’ll work to give the youngsters a sense of responsibility and inspire them to achieve.

“It’s going to benefit young people in this neighborhood, where violence and all type of maladies have taken hold,” he said. “It’s going to help change the environment and dynamic. It’s going to give our young people hope.”

The center officially opens Jan. 10.