Merced council discusses future of Stephen Leonard Park Youth Center

The Stephen Leonard Youth Center is at 640 T St. in Merced. | photo by: Andrew Kuhn akuhn@mercedsunstar.com
  •  Two Merced groups working to take over park facilities 
  • Both groups hope to offer youth activities in South Merced
  • City Council to make decision in July 

A group of children clapped and cheered during this week’s Merced City Council meeting as Mayor Stan Thurston promised their soccer academy a space for youth activity.
The Merced Atlas Soccer Academy is one of two groups that have entered applications to take over the Stephen Leonard Park Youth Center at 640 T St., across from Sheehy Elementary School.
The Merced chapter of the NAACP is the second group interested in the building.
The Stephen Leonard Park Youth Center, which has been vacant for about three years, is a 3,856-square-foot facility that includes a game room, lounge, equipment room, office and kitchen. In the past, the building was operated by the city for youth activities.
The two groups made brief presentations to the Recreation and Parks Commission back in April, and again during Monday’s regular City Council meeting.
While no final decision was reached Monday, the council agreed that both groups are deserving of a space to conduct their proposed programming.
One idea, Thurston said, is that the soccer academy take over the McNamara Park Youth Center because of the access to nearby soccer fields. The NAACP, he said, could possibly work with the nonprofits that currently operate the McNamara Center to run the Stephen Leonard Park Youth Center, which is the bigger facility of the two.
Another idea, Thurston said Wednesday, is that the soccer academy share the McNamara Park facility with its current occupants.
“We’re trying to accommodate all three groups with only two facilities,” Thurston said. “There’s a couple of alternatives – we just need to sit down (with the groups) and figure things out.”
According to this city’s administrative report, Atlas Soccer Academy is asking for a facility to provide weekly meetings, training and educational sessions to citizens ages of 3 to 20. The group is also proposing to hold monthly training for at least 25 adults on topics such as parent engagement, nutrition and health education.
Fernando Aguilar, president of the Merced-based nonprofit soccer academy, said the services provided would benefit the community as a whole.
Aguilar said he and the academy’s board of directors toured the McNamara Park Youth Center on Tuesday, and although they found the space a bit small to accommodate their needs, he said the group would be able to work around it.
The Merced NAACP applied to run the Stephen Leonard Park Youth Center to house its Spirit of Excellence Academy. Programming, according to the city’s administrative report, would include career exploration, CPR training, teen parent mentoring and tutoring.
Necola Adams, who is on the educational committee for the NAACP, said the programming would focus on science, technology, engineering and math education.
As of December 2014, the McNamara Park Youth Center is being used by a group of four organizations that offer a variety of youth-oriented programming. In May, the group asked the City Council for $29,000 to sustain programming.
Having another group at the center, Thurston said, would take some pressure off the groups currently operating the center: Symple Equazion, Mentoring Odd Jobs Organization, Lifeline Community Development and the Isaiah Project.
The council anticipates making its final decision on which group will run Stephen Leonard Youth Center in July.
BY ANA B. IBARRA, aibarra@mercedsunstar.com
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