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Center Takes a Big Step With a Small Move

Charity: Bresee Foundation youth facility opens bigger, brighter, computer-equipped quarters to serve the poor near its Westlake base.

January 10, 2001|DAVID PIERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Bresee Youth Center moved just across the street in the Westlake district of Los Angeles on Tuesday. But to the Rev. Jeff Carr, the shift made all the difference in the world.

For 13 years, the center made do with a dingy space on the third floor of the Los Angeles First Church of the Nazarene. Its new home is a $2.7-million, 15,000-square-foot complex with a cybercafe, a recreation area and facilities for counseling, and health services for both youngsters and adults.

So the 36-year-old minister from that Nazarene church could not be blamed for weeping when he discussed the renamed Bresee Community Center, near Vermont Avenue and 3rd Street. Five times larger than its old home, it will serve the densely populated working-class communities of Koreatown, Pico-Union, Westlake and South-Central Los Angeles.

"The poor deserve to be treated with dignity and respect," Carr said. "The poor have the answers to their problems. They just don't have the resources."

The center is run by the Bresee Foundation, a Nazarene-related charity organization that helps about 3,000 people annually.

Carr, executive director of the foundation, said 75% of the residents in the service area do not have health insurance and rely heavily on the foundation for such basic health care as blood screenings and flu shots. Other services include literacy and academic programs and employment assistance.

The Bresee Foundation is named after Phineas Franklin Bresee, a former Methodist minister who founded the Church of the Nazarene in Los Angeles in 1895 in the hope of focusing more on social service.

The church moved in 1951 to its current location, where Carr opened the youth center in 1987. At the time, Carr turned down an offer to play professional soccer in Portland, Ore., to take an internship at the church. He began to build relationships with children, encouraging them to stay in school and guiding them toward college. He was ordained in 1991.

The center's new building, which was previously rented by the Los Angeles Unified School District as a testing facility, was bought by the foundation out of bankruptcy court for $425,000 in 1998.

The lead donation of $400,000 for the center was provided by the S. Mark Taper Foundation. Ray Reisler, an executive for the Taper foundation, said the Bresee Foundation "demonstrated active engagement with its community," and he described Carr as the "finest example of a nonprofit organization leader."

The newly renovated one-story Bresee Center is painted in bright blues, reds and yellows. Windows and skylights pour light into the cheerful setting that Carr said offers about $100,000 worth of computer technology and, more important, serves as a haven for youth who want to stay away from gangs.

"I like this building a lot better than the last place," said seventh-grader Natalie Park, 12, who joined the about 250 people at the opening ceremony. "It's bigger with more stuff. I get to hang out with friends and I feel safe."

Youngsters at the center receive in-house credit for doing their homework. The credit can be used to purchase such things as snacks

and tickets to Disneyland. With some technical assistance from Sanwa Bank, Carr developed an in-house bank that teaches children how to use a credit card and save money.

Carr said the center will emphasize technology because the so-called digital divide between rich and poor is an "economic justice issue" and a "civil rights issue."

Fonda Whitehead, a center alumna who now works there, said the new building will help other youngsters find their way in life.

"Without their help, I wouldn't be where I am now," said Whitehead, who came to Carr in 1987 as a 16-year-old and now works as director of outreach and recreation. "I want to give back because I can relate to the kids here."

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