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San Juan Residents Protest Plan to Close Youth Center

Recreation: Money woes doom local Boys & Girls Club. Parents are upset their kids will have to go to one across town.

April 12, 2002|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dozens of parents and community activists gathered Thursday morning to protest the impending closure of a Boys & Girls Club in a predominantly Latino neighborhood of San Juan Capistrano.

The Boys & Girls Club of Capistrano Valley board announced last month that a $200,000 budget shortfall was forcing the closure of its El Camino site, which they say is in disrepair and too small to handle the community's needs.

Parents, who say the club provides needed after-school care, expressed anger that their children would be bused to another Boys & Girls Club on the south side of town. The El Camino facility, which is set to close May 3, sits between an elementary school and the Capistrano Villas, a dense residential area.

Erica Araiza, a sophomore at Capistrano Valley High School, was one of more than 100 children who spent Thursday afternoon at the dilapidated, five-room facility that was once part of the old Capistrano Union High School. Erica said she will take a bus to the other club, about two miles away, but worries that others won't leave their familiar surroundings.

"I think it's ridiculous that they are closing this place," Araiza said. "I don't think it's fair to send these kids to the other side of town. Some of them live next door. We don't ask for much, and we don't complain. We just want somewhere to go."

Boys & Girls Club officials say they made their decision for financial reasons. The newer facility is only 2 years old and is in a city-owned building provided to the club at no charge. The facility is next to Marco Forster Middle School and serves about 300 children from three schools.

The El Camino site is a quarter the size and is rented for $850 a month from the Capistrano Unified School District.

Efforts to raise money to erase the club's shortfall have been unsuccessful, said Erik Friess, a club board member.

"It's shockingly difficult to raise money," he said. "We thought we might be able to financially pull off handling two facilities. But because we don't have a long-term lease at El Camino, we can't make any capital improvements even if we had the money."

Community leaders presented a plan to the board Thursday to keep both facilities open. The plan called for community leaders and board members to work together to raise money and seek corporate sponsors.

"Their proposal back to us was, 'Come up with a plan to raise $200,000,' " said Nativo Lopez, a Santa Ana school board member and executive director of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, an immigrant rights group.

"The Latino community came forward to support the board and to tackle the challenge together, not to assume the challenge on its own," Lopez said.

Lopez said his group hopes to meet with school district officials in order to get a longer-term lease and the San Juan Capistrano City Council to request financial assistance.

Friess said the board is considering a proposal that would keep the El Camino site open until June 3.

But Andy Pedraza, who for six years has been walking to the club a few blocks from the city's historic mission, wants a long-term solution.

"The kids that don't go to other places will have nothing to do," said Andy, 14. "That'll just put them back on the streets where they can get into a lot of trouble."

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