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Recreation Is Hard Work : Parks Center Director Says 'Community Stronghold' Needs Volunteers

October 02, 1994|GLENDA HOWRY | Glenda Howry has been the recreation director at Jordan Downs Recreation Center in Watts for eight years. The only full-time employee at the center, she has a staff of eight part-timers who volunteer 10 to 15 hours each. The park serves residents of Jordan Downs, especially the 2,600 children under 15 who live there. On any given day, 200 play at the park, and Howry is trying to enlist the community's support to better serve the children. She was interviewed by Enrique Lavin. and

When I arrived at the Jordan Downs Recreation Center, it was destroyed. For two years it hadn't had a full-time director or been maintained.

The center hadn't had any major repairs in 30 years. There was no irrigation system in the baseball playing field, so it was basically rocks, glass and dirt. There was no fencing around the baseball diamond and no bleachers for spectators to watch games. The children's play area was a safety hazard--the swing poles had rusted through. The asphalt around the play area was lifted in chunks. The gymnasium itself had not been painted in 10 years. The floor of the gym had water damage and been eaten by termites.

I was here two years before they did anything. But after some community involvement and a large number of youths participating in park activities, which was brought on by a committed part-time staff, the whole center was refurbished.

With the help of organizations like Kids In Sport (formerly the Amateur Athletic Foundation Sports Club for Kids) and our park advisory (a group of community volunteers that raise funds for the park), we have enough equipment. The only thing we need now is bodies.

I have my gripes and complaints about the city Recreation and Parks Department, and yet they have always been there for us. In our community, which needs so much, they've given a lot. Our recreation center was the only center open during the riots.

If more people came out of their shells or their offices and saw what was actually happening to the inner-city park, officials would see that these parks do need extra dollars because they'd see how the parks are serving all these children.

People have to understand that the recreation center in the inner-city is the community stronghold. That's the place where the whole community gathers, good times, bad times. It's everything.

The community has grown faster than the park's facilities. In baseball, for instance, we had 12 teams on one field. It gets hectic when you have that much activity going on in such a small space. I had to turn away 60 to 70 kids because we don't have coaches.

This is true not only with the baseball season but with all our sports programs. These are outlets. Watts has no movie theaters, skating rinks, video arcades, there's nothing. The only place the children in the community have is the local recreation center.

It's sad we have to turn children away because we don't have the people there to implement the programs and the ideas.

I'm a program fanatic. If you keep kids busy with something to do, then they'll always be there. So naturally my greatest concern about the facility is the lack of adult volunteers.

It seems to me there's no interest from inside or outside of the community to, as they say, "make a difference." People feel that dollars and cents will make a difference. However, they don't understand that more so than dollars and cents, we need adult role models.

The children need adults at the parks to help them and encourage them. Many of the children are not getting this at home.

Because of the number of people we serve, one person gets burned out, because they're wearing too many hats. You are the sports director, equipment buyer and manager, the day care director, you wear many titles and there's no buffer.

I would like to see people do what they say they are going to do. Money will help. But we need people, committed people to come in and teach the community how to get involved and be leaders. Not all leaders are born, leaders are taught how to lead.

The community is begging for help.

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