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For Youths in South-Central, a Haven to Call Home : Day care: Blazers 'safe' house provides children a place to go after school, away from the hazards of the streets.


The gated door of the small, one-family house swings open and two wide-eyed boys stand inquisitively at the entrance.

One asks, "Is this the Blazers home?" An employee then ushers them into a converted garage behind the Blazers Safe Haven house, where they join about a dozen other children, some playing basketball, others lying on exercise mats.

Inside the front room of the home, Bennie Davenport and Gwen Bolden are talking about their vision--to create a "safe haven" in every neighborhood where children can grow and learn, be challenged and gain confidence in themselves.

"Every child should be able to have someplace . . . they can walk into and feel safe, and feel like they can ask all these questions and play with all these things and leave feeling like they discovered something new," said Bolden, 68.

It's all about relationships at the Blazers Safe Haven house. The relationship between co-founders and directors Davenport and Bolden. Relationships between the kids and the instructors. And relationships the youths have with each other.

Since February, Blazers Safe Haven house on West 48th Street in South-Central has provided youths 8 to 18 a place to go after school, away from hazards of the streets. The facility, open from 3 to 8 p.m. weekdays, exposes children to a learning environment that includes everything from lessons on agriculture, animal care, computer training and video projection, among other subjects, to basketball and academic tutoring.

"We keep telling kids to say 'no' to drugs, say 'no' to gangs, and they want to know what they can say 'yes' to," said Eric White, regional trainer for Cities and Schools Inc., a national drop-out prevention program.

"This (safe haven) represents the 'yes.' They can say 'yes' to education and computers and agriculture," he said.

The youths served by Blazers Safe Haven come from a variety of backgrounds. Some come from broken homes or overcrowded living conditions. Some have been in juvenile detention centers. And others are simply looking for a constructive and enjoyable way to fill their free time.

"I liked that we're learning math and karate and about respecting people's property," said 9-year-old Audrey Gainer, a fourth-grader at Normandie Elementary School. "My grandma likes that I'm here too, because if I wasn't I'd just be home playing by myself and being bored."

The safe haven operation is part of the Weed and Seed program proposed by the Bush Administration. While anti-drug and anti-gang initiatives make up the "weed" part, safe havens are the "seed" component, White said. Blazers Safe Haven is one of three safe havens in the state and the only one in Los Angeles.

The project is funded by a $95,000 grant from the U.S. Departments of Justice, Education and Housing and Urban Development. The grant is doled out through Cities in Schools, which has opened about 20 safe havens nationwide.

The collaborative venture brought together Davenport and Bolden, who have spent the past 25 and 15 years, respectively, working with youth.

Since 1969, Davenport, 52, has run Blazers Youth Services Inc., an organization that stresses academics through an athletic program. Bolden, a former teacher, has been helping tutor students from South-Central schools since 1979 through her organization, the Gwen Bolden Youth Foundation.

Bolden's organization had received the funding and contract to operate a safe haven, but needed to find a facility. Davenport was planning to open a learning center in a one-family home he bought on West 48th Street. Instead, he remodeled the house into an 1,800-square-foot community center that houses the safe haven downstairs. Davenport lives upstairs.

The collaboration of Davenport and Bolden's programs allows each of the individual organizations to broaden the circle of youths served as well as the types of programs offered.

For 14-year-old Kinney Holley, the Blazers Safe Haven house is a place to play basketball and receive help in math.

"They taught us about the video cameras and we learned about peer pressure and not to do what you don't want to," Kinney explained.

The organization is also sponsoring a youth leadership program that allows teen-agers to learn about various occupations through interviews with leaders in the private and public sectors.

What makes the Blazers Safe Haven different, says Bolden, is that it is located in a home rather than in a school, church or public recreation center.

"There's the smell of something cooking in the kitchen," she said. "And when they see Mister D (Davenport), the papa, they feel safe."

The house has been designed to provide different experiences for the youths. Out front, they will learn agriculture by planting on what are now barren patches of soil. The basement, home to three iguanas, will be the animal lab.

Davenport also bought the house next door and plans to expand the animal lab into its back yard and use the home for a think tank on youth issues.

Information: (213) 293-1212 or (213) 292-2261.

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