There wasn't a seat left in the Sunnyside City Council chambers last night as community members filled the room to show support for Sunnyside's Promise.
After hearing from the citizens, as well as from Sunnyside's Promise Board Chair Nate Bridges and Director Mark Baysinger, one-of-two requests was approved. The city council approved $50,000 in core funding, but left the decision of awarding the organization another $55,000 open.
The unpledged money would help Sunnyside's Promise continue operating the Sunnyside Community Center. Councilman Tom Gehlen suggested the money could be found in the city budget, but said further discussions should be on the agenda at the Monday, March 14, city council meeting.
Community members speaking during the unscheduled appearances segment of the council meeting included both young and old. About 15 different citizens voiced their concerns, sending up a plea to the city council members present in favor of continued financial support of Sunnyside's Promise and the community center.
Dorothy Aiken is the chair of Sunnyside's Parks and Recreation Commission. She said it is important to keep the community center open. "I feel a director could work with (Sunnyside's) Promise," she told the council.
Those going before council included youngsters that use the community center and school administrators, as well as concerned parents.
The council was told of the positive impact Sunnyside's Promise has had on the community's youth. Many said an open community center has provided youngsters with a safe place to go when they are not in school.
Sue Jetter spoke to the council and said, "The $55,000 funding (Sunnyside's Promise requested) is considerably less than the cost of a parks and recreation program."
She told the council, "This doesn't have to be an all or nothing decision."
Jetter made suggestions to council, asking the council members to find solutions to make the best use of the community center and the programs provided by Sunnyside's Promise.
Maria Mora, a member of the Sunnyside Soccer League Board of Directors, said her concern is for the youngsters in the community. She believes Sunnyside's Promise has provided programs at the community center that help youngsters stay out of gangs.
"It breaks my heart when I speak to parents who have kids in jail or (who) are dead because of gangs," she said, adding the prevention efforts of Sunnyside's Promise prevent youngsters from joining gangs.
Dave Hinojosa knows all too well the dangers of gangs. Not only is he a case manager working with Sunnyside's Promise with funding from a JRA (juvenile rehabilitation administration) grant, but he is a young man who grew up in a gang home.
Choking up as he spoke to the Sunnyside City Council, Hinojosa said there are several youngsters with whom he works that feel they do not have a future. They are youth growing up in homes like the one he lived in as a child.
"I dropped out in ninth grade," said Hinojosa, stating he looked for an escape and found one. He moved away from his family and eventually earned a Bachelor's degree, doing what many believed was impossible for him.
He said, "I want council to believe it's possible."
Because of his background, Hinojosa said he feels the efforts of Sunnyside's Promise and its partners are worthwhile. He is in daily contact with several youngsters in the Sunnyside School District that would not have hope if it wasn't for the promises of Sunnyside's Promise and he would not be working with those youngsters if the organization hadn't received the funding for his position.
When Bridges spoke to the council he reminded them of a resolution passed under the leadership of former Mayor Ed Prilucik. That resolution outlines the partnership between the city of Sunnyside and Sunnyside's Promise.
The resolution names Sunnyside's Promise as the coordinating agency for promoting the health and welfare of the community.
In December 2008 the Sunnyside's Promise executive committee was formed. That body is comprised of city council members, as well as representatives of the school district and hospital.
"The mutual interest agreed upon was the reduction of drug and alcohol use and gang activity," said Bridges, stating the committee pledged to promote the health of the community.
"It's hard to quantify the effects of Sunnyside's Promise," he said, stating it is difficult to measure the number of youngsters in the community who have not joined gangs because of the organization's efforts.
Bridges told the council the best way to judge the effects the organization is having is to think of all the youngsters who are involved in the programs provided by Sunnyside's Promise.
He also explained why the organization was asking for more core funding in 2011 than 2010. Last year the organization received the JRA grant to hire case managers who work in the schools. This year, the funding expires.
Bridges told the council Sunnyside's Promise will need to raise $90,000 for core funding purposes on its own in addition to the funds requested from the city, schools and hospital.
"The other funding we need is $55,000 to run the Sunnyside Community Center," said Bridges.
He asked the council to consider adding funding for Sunnyside's Promise and the community center to the budget amendment anticipated at the next council meeting.
Councilman Mike Farmer said, "I have one question...where would the $55,000 come from?"
Gehlen said he believes $30,000 in the parks and recreation fund in addition to another $19,000 slated for crime prevention would be put to good use if allocated to Sunnyside's Promise.
Farmer disagreed, stating he believes the city should run the community center. He said the $30,000 parks and recreation money should be used for that purpose.
Councilwoman Theresa Hancock entered the discussion. "There's no way this community is going to suppress its way out of the gang issue," she said.
"I believe we are only doing half of what's needed when we don't fund (intervention) and prevention programs," Hancock continued.
Councilman Pablo Garcia added, "I believe if it's a priority, we can both support Sunnyside's Promise and have a parks and recreation program...Deputy (Police) Chief Phil Schenck pointed out it's a three-legged stool and we can't take away a leg on that stool.
"The investment we're making today in our youth is very important...let's catch them before they need a second chance."
His remark received an applause from the audience.
Further discussion on the matter ensued but the final vote was 5-1 in favor of providing $50,000 in core funding. Farmer was the lone standout. Councilman Don Vlieger was absent from the meeting.