Once again, the citizens of Sunnyside showed up in full force for a city council meeting to support the Sunnyside Community Center operations.
It was standing room only last night (Monday), and after having heard from those willing to speak on behalf of keeping the community center open, the Sunnyside City Council authorized City Manager Mark Gervasi to sign a short-term contract with Sunnyside's Promise. The contract will provide the organization funding necessary to keep the center open until the council can devise a long-term solution.
Gervasi told the council his advice was to ink a short-term agreement or the center would not be open to the community today (Tuesday).
He said the VISTA volunteer, Celeste Goulding, will no longer be able to oversee the operations of the community center. However, Gervasi will work with Sunnyside's Promise to keep the center open to serve the community's needs.
That should bring some relief to those who were at the council meeting to voice their concerns about the center closing.
Many said they see the community center as a safe place for Sunnyside's youth to go when not in school. They told the council the center serves to help in gang prevention and intervention efforts.
Julia Hart, director of Lower Valley Crisis and Support Services, told the council, "Since the closure of the Sunnyside Parks and Recreation Department I feel there has been a rise in gang activity...I know we have to deal with incidents when they occur, but we have to provide kids with a safe place to go."
She pointed out the community center was built with that purpose in mind.
Pastor Larry Mays of Sunnyside's Seventh-Day Adventist Church voiced his concerns, too. As the vice chair of Sunnyside's Promise, he said he has had the opportunity to see how the programs and efforts of the organization have affected the youth taking advantage of opportunities provided to them.
"I heard a rumor that Sunnyside's Promise is just babysitting a bunch of kids, but that's not what it's about," he said.
Mays told the council he visited the community center and asked those playing there if they felt they were being babysat. All answered him, telling him they were just having fun, playing. "What I saw was the older (basketball) players mentoring the younger kids, developing sportsmanship," Mays said.
There were about 20 people who spoke to the council. Some told the council the decision to fund the community center operations should not be in contrast to the decision to fund gang suppression efforts.
They told the council gang intervention, prevention and suppression are all equally important in the fight against crimes afflicting the community.
"The Sunnyside Community Center is a place where we can hang out and be ourselves," said Luis Manzo, stating community members often stereotype youngsters in the community as gang members. The youngster said it isn't safe to be on the streets because of the stereotypes.
Jesus Torres told the council the community center gives youth in Sunnyside the opportunity to make better choices. He said he has grown up in a neighborhood where gangs are commonplace, but he wants to "do something good," not worrying about being shot at.
Dr. Jim Stevens took to the podium and said, "It's encouraging to see the number of people at this meeting."
He said the obvious concern citizens have regarding gang violence bolsters him.
"Unfortunately the community center can't be all things to all people," said Stevens.
He outlined the business of gangs and said the council's job is to unite the community in an effort to combat criminal gang activity. "I don't know where the division between the police and Sunnyside's Promise came from...the police need all the help they can get," said Stevens, stating he believes the community has to work to support both the Sunnyside police efforts and the gang prevention efforts.
Dave Hinojosa, a caseworker funded by a Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration grant said, "We are all fighting the same war...we have to attack the gang problem from all sides."
The authorization of a short-term contract with Sunnyside's Promise to operate the community center was provided to Gervasi by unanimous consent.
The council has yet to decide how to further fund the operations of the Sunnyside Community Center, however.