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Efforts underway to open community center in Mabton

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Work is underway at the Mabton Community Center. Pictured here are (back L-R) Gaye Vandermyn and Bertha Olivarez; (front L-R) Gabby Olivarez and Noe Flores, who have all been working on the buildings donated by the United Methodist Church for the center.

MABTON - A place kids can play and participate in good, wholesome fun ... that is the dream of three ladies in Mabton.

Bertha Olivarez, Gaye Vandermyn and Betty Carlyle have been working collectively to provide a place for Mabton children to gather for activities, reading and nutrition.

Vandermyn graduated from Mabton High School in 1958 and moved away from the community until December 2005. Upon her return, she noticed a need for more activities for the children in the community.

"When I was a kid we could go out into the fields. Children can't do that anymore," she stated.

The reason for Vandermyn's return to the community was to work on a biography of three Mabton School teachers. She has found her purpose to be much greater.

She said she hired a group of boys in the summer of 2006 to work on her yard. "By the end of summer, 10 to 14 boys were hanging out at my home, playing Monopoly and drinking my Kool-Aid," she remembered.

She said the boys had nothing to do but hang out at home with the television while their parents worked.

"The community has approximately 98 percent of its children qualifying for free lunches, so it is somewhat an impoverished community," Vandermyn surmised.

She said the children need supervision and activities because gangs and violence are very strong in the community.

"I became aquainted with these boys and their heart-wrenching stories. I decided an alternative was needed," she said.

Vandermyn began talking with Olivarez and Carlyle about the need for a safe place for the children of the community.

Carlyle offered to help the other two ladies with finding grants for a youth center.

In doing so, the three also decided senior citizens needed a place for activities. So, they expanded the youth center idea into a community center concept.

The threesome began a search for a location for the community center.

"Most of the buildings were so small," said Olivarez. So, after some consideration, she asked a friend, Teresa Flores, about the portable buildings at the United Methodist Church, bordering Feezell Park.

"She was close to the pastor of the church and she was able to give me his phone number," Olivarez stated.

In contacting Pastor Ruben Esclares, who is a volunteer pastor from the Tri-Cities, Olivarez was able to secure a meeting to discuss the portables.

After explaining the objective of the community center to Esclares, the three ladies were able to secure the portables for the Mabton Community Center.

"The pastor was very excited and told us the youth of his church had been wanting to form a youth program. So, we will be able to help them, too," said Olivarez.

Esclares donated two portables for the purpose of the community center. One building will house the office and the main room. The other building houses two classrooms.

Esclares also has donated seven computers and six sewing machines housed in the church for the community center. He offered to allow the center to use the kitchen facilities for a nutrition program the center hopes to provide via a grant recently received from Feed the Brain.

"The Feed the Brain grant will help us provide food for the children between the end of summer enrichment programs at Artz-Fox (Elementary School) and the beginning of the school year," said Olivarez.

Some of the activities the community center will offer include a bicycle repair clinic, concerts in the park, a literacy program, field trips and other recreational games.

Many supplies and books have already been donated to the center and the ladies are optimistic. "It has all come together so fast. Our first grant came through and we have only been working on this for a few weeks," said Vandermyn.

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