Wanted: more youth programs for Beacon Hill

What will kids in the NewHolly community be doing this summer? Normally they go to the Van Asselt Community Center to shoot hoops, make art, or attend summer camp. But the center was closed for remodeling and expansion in September 2005, and won't open again until late 2006.

The recent groundbreaking ceremony was well attended by the rainbow community that is NewHolly. When completed, this center will be a great resource. For now, the Seattle Parks Department has relocated some programs to the nearby Jefferson and Rainier Community Centers. Parks has also placed one staff member at the NewHolly campus.

But this is not enough. With more than 2,000 young people, NewHolly has an enormous need for youth programs. The development of Rainier View and Othello Station will increase the demand for such programs.

This winter, at the NewHolly Branch Library, I've seen the number of rowdy kids escalate since the community center closed. Where could these kids go to get out of the rain and have well-supervised fun?

Van Asselt Elementary School is across the street from the closed community center: Parks' staff and programs could have used that facility after school hours. Last month, Christopher Williams, Division Director for the Parks and Recreation Operations Division said, "we will be meeting with the principal of Van Asselt Elementary School to explore the use of the school gymnasium for parks sponsored drop-in programs. Securing the gym for drop-in programs will be especially critical this summer while young people are on summer break. We are moving to gain access to the gym for immediate use."

But it's April, and the community center was closed last September. This meeting should have happened a year ago. What was the parks department waiting for?

Unfortunately, the parks department has been preoccupied with fiascoes like the Occidental Park tree cutting and One Reel's attempt to turn Gasworks Park into a concert venue. Under pressure from Mayor Photo-Op - a.k.a. Mayor Greg Nickels - parks is increasingly focusing on appeasing developers. South Lake Union Park will be the crown jewel for Paul Allen's current hobby of developing the Cascade neighborhood. Among other frills, Allen's Vulcan, Inc. wants the parks department to create a pond for model boats, in a park on the shore of Lake Union!

Thankfully, such unnecessary enhancements are being challenged by Seattle City Council members Jean Godden, Richard McIver and Nick Licata. But where is council member David Della? The former activist and social services administrator chairs the city council's parks Committee.

Responding to my concerns about summer programs at Van Asselt, a cheerful Della aide said to contact Ken Bounds and his staff. The aide said Della leaves program management to the departments. But this is not a matter of micro-management. It's an issue of equity and priorities.

Della should work to ensure that the parks department serves a diverse community, especially in a neighborhood with a huge youth population and recent gang activity.

Della's aide said the councilman wants ideas for parks department funding in the 2007 budget. With this in mind, Della should demand funding for a late night program to serve this growing neighborhood. He should also be pressed to fund more staff at Van Asselt. This later point is critical, for the ProParks Levy funds capital projects, like the community center's expansion, but it doesn't fund to expand staffing.

For now, Parks has Teen Development Leader Joy Williams working at NewHolly, but she can only use NewHolly's gathering hall two afternoons a week. Again, how about Van Asselt Elementary? There's little money for staff: Williams has one Summer Youth Employment worker and any volunteers she can recruit. She's currently looking for a sewing teacher.

Problems with city programs aside, the Atlantic Street Center and Catholic Community Services organize year-round tutoring for NewHolly youth. They all need volunteers: learn more at www.newholly.org, or call 723-4073.

Volunteering is one way to create positive activities for kids. As a parks department volunteer - I'm a steward for the Pritchard/Loon Wetland Park - I've worked with many underpaid, overworked and dedicated Seattle Parks employees. They provide desperately needed recreation and help foster our natural oasis to offset the city's increasingly dense urban landscape.

With better oversight from Della, the parks department could prioritize youth and nature, not developers' whims. And the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation's "Youth Engagement Program" could pay for expanded staffing for the Van Asselt Community Center.

Heck, Paul could write a check to fund youth programs across Beacon Hill for years, and I bet his bank account would barely fluctuate.

Are you listening, Paul?

South End resident Valerie Rose may be reached via editor@sdistrictjournal.com.

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