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FOCUS: ORANGE COUNTY COMMUNITY NEWS | CENTRAL: ORANGE

Kids' Center Open in Once-Troubled Area

July 03, 1998|LESLEY WRIGHT

Two years after developers cleaned up their neighborhood, parents, teachers and community volunteers have created a new village to help their children.

More than 100 people were there for the opening of the Highland Street Learning Center on Wednesday as clergy blessed the new tan-and-beige stucco building, already equipped with computers and classrooms for a homework center.

"Today is the day we open the center to the community--believing we can achieve dreams," said Alex Olmos, executive director of the center. "You are going to walk these kids to a really bright future."

The center, open from 3 to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, will emphasize academics. Students can drop by and get help with homework from volunteers.

Other attractions include supervised outdoor sports, a teen center, computer games and old-fashioned books.

Anyone wanting to donate money, materials or time can contact the center, at 1909 Quincy St., by calling (714) 289-4429.

Bobbie Lansman, principal of nearby Handy Elementary School, said prizes will be available for children who log a certain amount of hours at the center.

"I will know who goes there," she warned the children in attendance, with a wink.

The center is being run by T.H.I.N.K. Together (for Teaching, Helping, Instructing Kids), a Santa Ana-based nonprofit group that operates two other learning centers and hopes to open 15 to 20 more throughout the county.

The lease for the center's building is being donated by Courtyard Apartments, the development group that bought and rehabilitated 256 apartments in the neighborhood.

About $2 million of the $9-million neighborhood project came from the city's share of local and federal housing funds.

"When we bought this property two years ago, it had the second-highest crime rate in the county," said Barry Cottle, one of the Tustin-based developers. Back then, the complex was a slum, Cottle said. "We put in grass and trees and we're here on-site."

Two patrol officers from the Police Department's bike unit joked that the successful neighborhood rehabilitation has made life pretty boring for them.

"We used to go out on our bikes and make 15 to 20 arrests a night," said Officer Jim Burgan. "Now you're lucky if you make one arrest a week."

That was good news for Mayor Joanne Coontz.

"For 20 years I have looked forward to our city assisting in the cleanup of these neighborhoods," she said. "This program involves the families, and that is really important. I know it will be a fine example for other neighborhoods to follow."

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