Advocates call Merced to “back the Mac”

Youth advocates held a news conference at McNamara Park Youth Center on Tuesday to announce their plans to push for further support for the center.
They’re calling the effort “#BackTheMac,” a social media-friendly reference to McNamara Park. Their plan includes a request of about $29,000 in the coming fiscal year from the Merced City Council, as well as a request for support from parents who live in the area.
The conference was a joint effort from Symple Equazion, Mentoring Odd Jobs Organization, Lifeline Community Development and the Isaiah Project – the four nonprofits that run a youth program in the center.
“(The center) gives children in this area a safe place for after school,” said Rachelle Abril, a co-founder and director of Mentoring Odd Jobs Organization. “There’s a big need for healthy environments in Merced.”
Finding extra funds in the budget could be a tall order because the city already has plans for its general fund. City Council has been looking at a proposed budget, which would hire an additional recreation coordinator and add to the ranks of police and firefighter, among other new expenditures.

John Dovales Flores, 32, who volunteers at the McNamara Park Youth Center

The group of nonprofits said they will look to make their case that the center is worth the cost to the budget during City Council meetings through June, when the council is suppose to finalize the budget.
Monika Grasley, the executive director of Lifeline, asked parents to get involved with the center. Several dozen children and parents from the area attended the conference. “We need your input,” she said to the parents.
Services for young people have been a popular topic in recent years, as the demographics in Merced are young and underprivileged.
About 39 percent of the city is made up of people younger than 18, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And the demographics could continue to trend younger as UC Merced is looking to reach an enrollment of 10,000 by 2020.
A similar effort last year asked Merced City Council to put more money into recreational and job-skills training programs for young people. The effort did not gain the full support of the council, which gave the group less than 10 percent of what it was asking, or about $24,000.
That money was used to refurbish the McNamara Park Youth Center, where the press conference took place.
The efforts at the center have been beneficial and should be expanded, said Jessenya De La Rosa, 17, of Merced. She said she’s benefited from the leadership skills she’s learned through a program run by Symple Equazion at the center. “We need more places like this,” she said.
A few speakers talked about their fond memories of running around the park as children. They said the park needs financial support to keep from deterioration.
John Dovales Flores, 32, who volunteers at the center, said he remembers coming to town from Planada to visit the park. He encouraged the children and parents at the conference to show their faces at City Council meetings.
“Force the people in power to pay attention to us,” he said.
The groups plan to give a detailed presentation of their hopes for funding during a City Council meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 678 W. 18th St.