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Sunnyside Community Center funding at core of Tuesday's confab

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The topic of last night's joint meeting between the city of Sunnyside, Sunnyside School District, Sunnyside Community Hospital and Port of Sunnyside was funding needs of Sunnyside's Promise. Pictured at the meeting are (L-R) Sunnyside Community Hospital CEO Jon Smiley, Sunnyside's Promise Board Chair Nate Bridges and Sunnyside City Manager Mark Gervasi.

The Sunnyside School District, Sunnyside Community Hospital and city of Sunnyside all have a vested interest in the success of Sunnyside's Promise, according to Dr. Rick Cole, superintendent of schools.

The question being raised last night at a joint meeting between the partners was whether or not Sunnyside's Promise will be awarded funds to continue operating the Sunnyside Community Center.

The partners, as well as representatives from the Port of Sunnyside, met at Bon Vino's to discuss the need for $55,000 to pay for a community center director and part-time janitor.

Cole said he sees the focus of Sunnyside's Promise, providing youth in the community programs according to five promises, and the operation of the community center as separate issues.

He once chaired the Sunnyside's Promise board and said the organization was formed as the result of the community's need to provide drug and alcohol prevention and intervention.

At the time, said Cole, there was grant funding for programs focused on drug and alcohol prevention and intervention.

The formation of Sunnyside's Promise was the marrying of the Sunnyside Youth Coalition with the America's Promise Alliance strategies.

When drug and alcohol funding was no longer available, Sunnyside's Promise was provided funding from the Sunnyside School District to continue addressing drug and alcohol issues facing youth in the community, said Cole.

He told those gathered, "The perception was that Sunnyside's Promise was a school district program, which it never was...it was always a community program."

When Sunnyside's Promise received non-profit status, the organization shifted to place more emphasis on gang prevention and intervention efforts because gang problems were at the forefront of the community's concerns. Alcohol and drug prevention and intervention took a back seat to the gang issues plaguing the community.

Cole said the school district, the city of Sunnyside and Sunnyside Community Hospital have been helping fund Sunnyside's Promise to pay for the organization's director and another employee.

"Tonight we need to discuss whether the organization will continue to operate according to the five promises (to Sunnyside's youth) or operate the community center," said Cole.

Sunnyside Community Hospital CEO Jon Smiley said the hospital believes in promoting a healthy community. He said the hospital supports the efforts of Sunnyside's Promise because employees at the hospital "get the result" of unhealthy decisions and circumstances.

He said he also feels there is a need for a safe community to attract commerce.

Sunnyside City Manager Mark Gervasi spoke to the matter, saying he knows the city is committed to supporting Sunnyside's Promise.

"We want the community center open," he added.

Gervasi said the $55,000 needed to fund a community center director is needed by March 1, and he is not certain if the Sunnyside City Council believes the funds should be provided to Sunnyside's Promise or used in another manner...a manner that would provide youth recreational opportunities.

City Councilman Mike Farmer spoke to the matter. "I think the community is begging for a parks and recreation program, which goes hand-in-hand with gang intervention," he said.

Councilman Tom Gehlen agreed, stating there are programs offered at the community center that benefit everyone and are working. A parks and recreation program separate of those programs would have to be re-established and would take time, he noted.

"We have to look at what Sunnyside's Promise does...we have to assess what we're doing," said Gehlen, adding behaviors exhibited by youth with the potential to become involved in gangs must be targeted.

School Board President Miguel Puente said he feels the partners have not yet provided Sunnyside's Promise with clear expectations of how the five promises are to be fulfilled.

"I don't think the funding given is enough to meet all the expectations of the three funding partners," he said.

Puente said the partners need to find a common priority and share that priority with Sunnyside's Promise.

After further discussion, Sunnyside's Promise Board Chair Nate Bridges spoke to those gathered.

He said Sunnyside's Promise has expanded its programs and continues to employ two people. But without core funding, the director of Sunnyside's Promise, Mark Baysinger, will no longer be employed by the organization.

Bridges said Baysinger has been instrumental in securing grants to provide programs for Sunnyside's youth.

"He secured a JRA grant first and was able to fund two caseworkers, who are in the schools, to help students referred to them for at-risk behavior," said Bridges.

Those caseworkers are working with 91 students at-risk of having gang ties.

Last year, Sunnyside's Promise was in need of a facility to host a health and fitness program. The Sunnyside Community Center was sitting idle and discussions with the city led to the organization using the facility for youth programs through spring break.

The success and the community's enthusiasm as a result of that partnership led to additional programs at the community center and a grant from the Yakima Valley Community Foundation helped secure funding for a director for the programs.

Since that director's departure, Sunnyside's Promise has been seeking out individuals and funding sources to employ a new community center director to address the needs expressed by community members.

However, funds for a community center director aren't the only priority. Core funding for Sunnyside's Promise is essential, too, said Bridges.

Bridges, in a later discussion with the Daily Sun News, said, "Without the core funding the community center directorship is a moot point."

Last night, he told the partners core funding has not been used to operate the community center, but those operations have relied on other funding.

"We don't have to operate it (the community center)," said Bridges, stating Sunnyside's Promise is focused on serving the youth and the community through its programs however possible.

Cole said he will be meeting with Sunnyside's Promise officials to discuss the five promises and how programs provided by the organization fit within those promises.

Also, next Monday, Sunnyside's Promise will be giving a presentation at the Sunnyside City Council meeting, asking for funds.

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