The following column is a continuation of a February 4th story profiling the early career of Vera Davis McClendon Youth and Family Center Director Cliff McClain.
Ramona Davis, daughter of Vera Davis McClendon, has offered thanks to Cliff McClain for his steadfast service and help in guiding others toward a positive direction at the youth and family center.
“Cliff brings a heart of service to the Vera Davis McClendon Youth and Family Center and his success depends on the commitment of the community and the City of Los Angeles to volunteer and provide financial support for the needs of our community here in Venice,” Davis says. “There have been and are many challenges to face but he is there with open arms to assist and to serve.”
Cliff has had the opportunity to work in many cities throughout the County of Los Angeles and says he has found one aspect in Venice he never found anywhere else.
“The resources to solve the problems are right in Venice,” he says. “Here, next-door neighbors can help.”
When Cliff first started at the center in 2001, Mary Richert, operations director at the Venice Family Clinic, was his “go-to” person. “If I didn’t know how to find it or how to get it, I called Mary and she could hook me up,” he says. “I don’t know if I would have had the initial impact without Mary.”
People in the community continued to help. Cliff acknowledges Phoenix House and its driver, Venice resident James “Billy” Vaughn, who brings bread, pastries and sometimes milk and butter, as well as other items on Tuesdays and Thursdays for residents. Other food distributions are brought every second and fourth Thursdays of the month with groceries from the Los Angeles and Long Beach food banks.
This past Christmas, the Electric Lodge in Venice allowed the center to use its space for a toy give-away.
Thanksgiving is always an important time of year for food donations. Vera Davis, the executive director of LIEU-CAP (Low Income and Elderly United — Community Assistance Project) at the time, and Venice made headlines in 1989 when actress Zsa Zsa Gabor was sentenced to 120 hours of community service at the organization. She also donated 100 turkeys for Thanksgiving, he said.
In 2007 Gabor’s husband, Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt, reportedly received some bad press and called Cliff, who suggested that he and Gabor donate turkeys. They bought 200 turkeys that year and have committed to the donations through 2010, Cliff says.
Other members of the community have also taken part in the turkey donations. Through efforts including turkeys purchased with money from the Venice Neighborhood Council and those made in a deal with Ralphs, about 250 families were able to have their Thanksgiving dinner, he says.
Clothing, other necessities and technology equipment are also donated during the year. Many of the computers in the community access center were donated, and Internet service was donated until Time Warner took over in the area, Cliff notes.
“We have kids who come in who don’t have computers at home,” says Cliff. “They could come here and do their homework. You really need a computer now, but we don’t have Internet access.”
The Internet is also a major means of communicating for the homeless, he says. “Many of the people who come here who are homeless have a cell phone and an email address,” says Cliff. “This is their central location. This is how they stay connected.”
The purpose of the center is to help people, not only while they are down and out, but to give them ways to become self-sufficient, he explains. “It is not my desire to make poverty comfortable,” says Cliff.
He is a proponent of education and training programs to increase chances for employment and he continually works to maintain relationships with sources that may provide employment or leads to jobs. Taxi vouchers and tokens are made available for those without their own transportation to look for work.
Jataun Valentine, who is now retired, has provided valuable assistance with the Community Development Department, which oversees the center, Cliff says.
“If I had ten Jatauns, we would be in great shape,” says Cliff. “She always comes through. She has the interest and the energy. There are never any excuses why she can’t do something. We need some of these young ladies too.”
He notes that the future of the center was up in the air a couple of years ago.
“It’s probably further up in the air today,” says Cliff. “I’ve heard all sorts of things but no one has said anything to me. There’s a lot of good that can come out of here.”
Not only is the center a facility for people in need, it also houses offices for Venice Arts, Venice 2000, Latino Resource Center, Tech Team and the Mildred Cursh Foundation — vital organizations that benefit youth and adults in the Oakwood Neighborhood.
Cliff is looking towards the future and says he sees a greater necessity for the support that the center is already providing.
He also wants to establish relationships for resources to increase the center’s ability to provide services. The list of desires runs the gamut from Internet access for computers to building maintenance, but he acknowledges that certain necessary projects do not come easy from the city budget.
“Venice is a great place,” says Cliff. “I meet such good people here. You can’t tell whether they have or they have not.”