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Ventura County

City Approves Funds for 4 Youth Centers

Thousand Oaks: Council votes to contribute $1 million toward local Boys & Girls Clubs construction projects.

January 23, 2002|CARRI KARUHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jackie Dollarhyde shares the plight of many working parents.

Weekday afternoons, her three children call her at work to let her know they have arrived home from school. She reminds them to do their chores or homework, but the Thousand Oaks mother is concerned about the two hours they must spend alone until she can leave her part-time job as a real estate assistant.

"I hate for my kids to be by themselves," said 41-year-old Dollarhyde, whose children are 8, 11 and 14. "But I'm not in a position where I can afford child care."

The situation may get easier for Dollarhyde and parents like her in the Conejo Valley.

The Thousand Oaks City Council recently agreed to provide $1 million in matching funds toward the construction of four Boys & Girls Clubs.

The clubs are to be built on the grounds of Sequoia, Colina, Redwood and Los Cerritos middle schools.

They will provide a number of before- and after-school activities for students 6 to 18 years old.

Each of the 10,000-square-foot buildings is expected to cost about $700,000. They will go up on vacant land on the existing campuses, and the first center could open as early as spring 2003.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Conejo and Las Virgenes will own and operate the facilities, paying the Conejo Unified School District $1 a year to lease the land.

The youth organization will have to raise at least $450,000 toward the construction of each center before it receives a $250,000 grant from Thousand Oaks for each site.

City officials say the cost is worth it.

"It will give parents a sense of knowing that, instead of leaving the middle school and going to the mall or bowling alley, [their children] are going to a location where there is supervision and trained personnel," said Thousand Oaks City Councilman Dan Del Campo.

The Boys & Girls Clubs in Thousand Oaks will be the first in Conejo Valley.

Others exist in Simi Valley, Moorpark, Camarillo, Oxnard, Ventura, Fillmore and Port Hueneme. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Conejo and Las Virgenes also plan to build new youth centers in Oak Park, Agoura Hills, Westlake Village and Calabasas.

Their goal is to keep kids off the streets and out of trouble.

From 1997 to 2000, the number of delinquency offenses in Thousand Oaks rose from 39 to 133, including truancy, curfew violations and possession of alcohol by a minor. Graffiti increased an estimated 88% in 2001 from the year before, according to Thousand Oaks law enforcement officials.

Cmdr. Keith Parks, who oversees the Ventura County sheriff's station in Thousand Oaks, said his office has also noticed increased recruitment efforts among gang members in the city.

"The nature of kids at young ages, especially middle school, is to test limits, to see what they can do and can get away with," Parks said. "This will provide an opportunity for those kids to be in a supervised environment."

Eleanor Love, principal of Los Cerritos Middle School, said she welcomes the clubs' helping parents who need a place to drop off their children before heading to work.

"Some parents do a long commute and have to leave early," Love said. "That creates a child-care problem for them in the mornings and afternoons."

The Conejo Recreation and Park District operates a number of after-school programs, including the Thousand Oaks Teen Center on Janss Road. But some parents consider the facility too far a walk for their children and say no convenient bus service is available.

The park district also offers after-school programs at Sequoia and Redwood middle schools, where students can do their homework and receive tutoring. Those programs cost $200 a month.

Karen Lindsey, recreation services manger for the recreation district, said the programs will likely be phased out after the Boys & Girls Clubs at those schools are built.

"We are just filling a gap right now to provide services to parents," she said. "I don't know if there is enough of a need to provide [both]."

Each new club will be staffed by five full-time and 10 part-time employees, as well as 20 adult volunteers.

The centers will feature a computer lab, homework room, tutoring room, lounge, kitchen and snack area.

There will be a pool table, board games, exercise equipment and an activities room where students can listen to music or participate in arts and crafts. And club members will be able to use the schools' gym and athletic field.

Club membership will be $15 to $20 a year.

Cal Johnston, chairman of Boys & Girls Clubs of Conejo and Las Virgenes, said the centers will have an open-door policy, so that parents can decide how often their children will visit the facilities.

But he estimates each club will have approximately 1,000 members, and attract 300 to 400 students each day.

Many Boys & Girls Clubs are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, on Saturdays and during summer vacations.

At least once a year, club members from the four schools will meet as a group with a staff member to establish rules of conduct, such as how long each student can use a computer or exercise equipment before giving someone else a turn.

"It's important for them to feel that it's their club and that they have a responsibility to maintain it properly, and to live up to the rules and regulations," Johnston said.

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