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Page 2 / IDEAS, TRENDS, STYLE AND BUZZ

Everybody Loves Melvyn

November 06, 2000|GINA PICCALO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Melvyn Hayward is a touchstone in Venice, the man locals call when they need work, a place to live, help with their homework or simply the motivation to keep going when the odds against them feel overwhelming.

The 51-year-old Hayward, who heads the Vera Davis McClendon Youth and Family Community Center, welcomes the homeless, elderly, poor and young mothers pushing baby strollers--as well as local gang members. The center last year was designated as one of two places in the Oakwood district of Venice where local gangs are allowed to gather.

As this bohemian quarter of Los Angeles wrestles with gentrification, Hayward walks a fine line of protecting the interests of the poor and befriending affluent newcomers.

Hayward, who grew up in the nearby Mar Vista Gardens housing project, arrives at work every weekday at 7 a.m. and stays long after sunset to oversee classes or organize fund-raisers. In September, he was recognized with the Spirit of Venice award for his community work.

His tiny office is covered with pictures of the two generations of children he's mentored. He has stories to tell about every one of them. Some got married or went to college. Others were gunned down or are serving prison time.

For many, though, Hayward is a reminder that this pocket of a changing Venice is still their neighborhood.

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