The fate of the Vera Davis McClendon Youth and Family Center in Venice and the organizations it houses appears to be secure for at least the next year.
Concerns had arisen in the community in recent months about the future of the center, which is located at the old Venice Branch library in the Oakwood neighborhood and has been the home of organizations serving low-income residents for more than a decade.
Groups that have been operating out of the Spanish Colonial Revival style building at 610 California Ave. include Venice 2000, a nonprofit gang intervention organization; Venice Arts, which offers media-based arts education programs to low-income youths and adults; the Latino Resource Organization, a community-based social service organization; and the nonprofit Mildred Cursh Foundation.
Some have feared a possible closure as the center, operated under the city Community Development Department, has faced funding struggles in recent years as a result of the recession.
Hoping to preserve the facility’s current operations, city officials had proposed to transfer oversight of the center from the Community Development Department to the Cultural Affairs Department. With Community Development no longer able to receive community development block grants for the center beyond June 30, officials suggested that Cultural Affairs could administer the oversight through a joint public/private partnership.
But after the city was able to identify an additional $80,000 for the center and a request for proposal process for the new management anticipated to take a year, the transfer option has been halted for at least the next fiscal year. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who said his main priority was to keep the center open with its current level of services, is pleased with the status of the center’s situation.
“The good news is that through the budget process and summer jobs program… it will enable them to continue with the same programs and projects that have been going on there for the next fiscal year,” Rosendahl said.
The city managed to secure $60,000 from the general fund budget and an additional $20,000 from the Summer Youth Employment Program to use toward the center. The funding will help cover maintenance and utility costs at the historic building, as well as staffing for part-time student workers during the 50 hours per week that the building is open, said Carolyn Weiss, Central-West regional director for Community Development.
The student workers will receive training and provide a “city presence” for the organizations at the site by making sure the center is run effectively and opening and closing the building, Weiss said.
With the decision made to keep management of Vera Davis under the auspices of CDD for the next year, Weiss said the department is happy to help ensure that the various services continue for the community.
“It’s always been our hope and desire to make sure the services being operated out of there continue whether it was with us or the Department of Cultural Affairs,” Weiss said.
Weiss said the organizations and employees working at Vera Davis over the years have provided a vital service to people whom the Community Development Department is dedicated to serving: low-income residents, youths and seniors.
“It’s really an essential part of the community and it’s really provided a necessary service,” Weiss said of the center.
Lynn Warshafsky, executive director of Venice Arts, was also pleased to know that the variety of programs would be maintained regardless of which department was managing the center.
“From my point of view, the most important thing is that the building be kept open so that the organizations providing services there can continue to do so,” Warshafsky said.
But she expressed some reservations with the plan, saying that a one-year solution does not appear to offer stability. She noted that access to the building has been reduced in the past year, forcing Venice Arts to not be able to run its after-school programs on certain days.
“Our first concern is our ability to make access of that youth and family center to serve low-income youth and their families,” she said.
Some other groups may not be impacted by the operating hours, but Venice Arts has requested a key to the building to have access beyond the hours that city workers can staff it, she said.
Stan Muhammad executive director of Venice 2000, said his group and other service providers formed the collaborative known as the Friends of Vera Davis Center to provide transparency and oversight of the operations. The goal is to not only ensure the programs continue but are enhanced, he said.
“It’s a collective force in terms of what we need to be doing from a service standpoint and also informing the community at large what transpires with that particular facility,” he said.
The primary concern for Venice 2000 with the city’s transfer plan was to ensure that the Oakwood community remained the primary target of services, Muhammad noted.
“We wanted to make sure that Oakwood was going to be the primary area of service,” he said.
He believes the current plan offers a temporary solution, but the Friends of Vera Davis are considering long-term options similar to the lease that the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) was able to secure for the old Venice Jail building.
Rosendahl acknowledged that the overriding issue is the long-term reality of the center, and while the current plan has given him more time to determine the best options, he said he is dedicated to keeping the social services in the center going for his constituents who rely on them.
“For these people who need those services and need to have that support, that’s what I’m committed to,” he said.