In the battle against drug abuse, juvenile crime and gangs in Wilmington and Harbor City, parents and community leaders have had trouble competing with the allure of the street.
"You just can't ask kids to get off the street and have nothing to offer them," James Davis, who supervises youth programs in Harbor City for the Toberman Settlement House, told a group of residents recently. "You have to give them something equally appealing."
Toberman and other organizations that offer recreational and educational programs for youths in the two communities have run into numerous obstacles. Many residents don't want youth centers in their neighborhoods, there are few buildings large enough to accommodate such facilities, and money is always hard to come by.
Next month, that will change--at least for one youth services organization in Wilmington.
The Wilmington Boys and Girls Club expects to break ground on a $1.2-million clubhouse in northwest Wilmington that club officials say will serve Wilmington, Harbor City and parts of southern Carson. The 18,000-square-foot building will have a gymnasium, weight room, game room, computer learning center, locker rooms, library and an outdoor playground.
Fred Johnson, the club's director, predicts the 870-member club will double or perhaps triple its membership once the new facility opens in December.
"There isn't a lot for kids in this area to do," Johnson said. "The building is going to be something that this community has never had."
Plans for the clubhouse have faced little opposition, in part because the organization has chosen an unlikely location. Club officials have negotiated a 30-year lease with the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts for 1 1/2 acres of the buffer zone between the districts' sewage treatment plant and residential areas of Wilmington.
'Outlet for Community'
"Our objective here is to provide an outlet for the community," said Frank Blaszcak, spokesman for the sanitation districts, which also lease 18 acres of the buffer zone to the Wilmington Jaycees for several athletic fields. "What we have attempted to do, is work very closely with the neighbors. . . . There are not a lot of people who are excited about the possibility of living next to a waste water treatment plant."
Blaszcak said the sanitation districts agreed to the long-term lease in exchange for access to the club's meeting rooms, which the sanitation districts would like to use for community meetings and training sessions for staff members. The sanitation districts are not charging rent for the property, at 1444 West Q St., he said.
"We are anxious to see something happen out there only because Wilmington is kind of a stepchild of Los Angeles," Blaszcak said. "There really isn't much in terms of parks and other outlets for kids. We consider the boys club a positive outlet."
The Wilmington Boys and Girls Club, a nonprofit organization for ages 6 to 18, has moved from various makeshift facilities since it was established in 1969. It is currently located in a renovated warehouse on Figueroa Street in southwest Wilmington. Johnson, the club's director, said officials have dreamed of building a permanent home for more than five years.
The club raised money from residents and businesses, sold its former facility on Avalon Boulevard, and also received grants from the United Way and the city's Community Development Department. The organization, still $435,000 shy of its goal, continues to seek money from the community, and last month asked Mayor Tom Bradley to help it obtain a grant for gym equipment from the Amateur Athletic Foundation.
Bradley, who is a member of the foundation's board, agreed to help the group, and Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who represents Wilmington, has also agreed to support the group's application, according to Nelson Hernandez, Flores' Wilmington deputy. The foundation oversees a portion of the surplus from the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.
Plans for the new clubhouse have been applauded by community leaders, educators, members of other youth services organizations--and the youngsters themselves.
Maria Figueroa, who teaches an anti-gang program to fifth-graders in Wilmington, said she has found that young children often drift into gangs because they "yearn to belong." The Boys and Girls Club, she said, particularly with up-to-date recreational and educational resources, can meet that need.
'Will Feel Left Out'
"Some of these kids play in the street if they don't have a place to go," Figueroa said. "If the community doesn't offer them an alternative, they will feel left out, and end up doing other things, like joining a gang."
Members of the Boys and Girls Club this week said the new building's separate gymnasium and other facilities will be welcome. At the clubhouse on Figueroa, the basketball court is lined with sofas, pool tables, an air-hockey game and a table soccer game. Nearby are tables for homework, and computer games. A meeting area is little more than several sofas placed in a circle at one end of the warehouse.
"When you go for a lay-up and you're going too fast, you fall over the couches," said Tyrone Dizadare, an 11-year-old resident of Dana Strand Village. "We won't have to worry about that anymore."