Eight years ago the former building of the Venice Library came back to life as The Vera Davis McClendon Center.
Locally, the facility is known as The Vera Davis Center.
There have been struggles and successes along the way to keep the center operating.
At this time, Ramona Davis, Vera’s daughter, is planning to play a more active role.
“I have been involved since the center was opened, working with Venice 2000,” says Ramona. “Now I’m going to establish a nonprofit Friends of the Center with people who would want to participate in some of the objectives of the center, since the city funding is so limited.
“If any of the agencies need to have additional monies to send a kid to summer camp or for an educational program, then the Friends of the Center would have money to help support the causes.”
Ramona plans to start a newsletter to keep the community aware of activities that go on at the center.
If you’ve been to The Vera Davis Center, you would have noticed that the community agencies there are housed in little cubicles.
One of the center’s objectives is to help these agencies get off the ground and expand to a point where they can go to a larger space on their own.
“We know that property in Venice is really outrageous as far as rent is concerned,” says Ramona. “If you’re just a small agency that wants to do something positive for the community you can’t afford to rent any of the buildings that are in the neighborhood.
“So, I’m glad that the center is here to accommodate those.
“That’s how Mom got her start, with just having a little organization and then, from there, she couldn’t find anyone who would allow her to use a building they had in order to have a shelter because of the liabilities.
“So, she used one of her own properties which, on one hand, maybe can be considered a conflict of interest, but, if you have no other way to go, you go with what you know how to do.
“That’s why, if there was some facility like this, then she could have started out here and raised capital to buy a building.”
The agencies at The Vera Davis Center deal mainly with youths and young adults — who need to be led toward alternative life styles in order to be kept off the streets and away from drugs and other serious crimes.
“Children are our future,” says Ramona. “If we don’t nurture them now, they’ll be falling by the wayside.”
Among the local organizations using The Vera Davis Center are:
Mildred Cursh Foundation: Established in honor of Mildred Cursh Reynolds, a dedicated and inspirational member of the Oakwood community, to offer support to the families of prisoners and mentor their children who are living in economically depressed conditions.
Every year more than 30,000 children in low-income families in Los Angeles County are separated from one or both of their parents who are serving prison sentences.
Information on the Web site at www.TheMildredCurshFounda tion.com
Tech Team: Under the banner of Webb-Landers Unlimited, Inc., computer training services are offered to assist in acquiring skills necessary to confidently participate in today’s technological environment.
Primary targets are at-risk and at-greater-risk youths, in addition to adults and seniors.
The computer training was expanded to the Oakwood Recreation Center with the Young Producer’s Club also targeting at-risk and greater-at-risk youths with educational and social problems, in this case by using music — an art form central to the lives of most youths.
New under the Webb-Landers umbrella is the Empowerment Store, a partnership with the Ndebele Foundation in South Africa, designed to bring awareness of the struggle of women worldwide.
All contributions will help motivate, train, and promote income-generating activities that will enhance self-reliance, personal growth and socioeconomic empowerment of women.
Web sites are
Latino Resource Organization: Provides safety net type services for low-income families — basic information and referrals, case management to assist in a variety of different family needs and immigration and naturalization assistance, including basic education about legal status.
A large senior program — social, cultural and recreational — incorporates health education for seniors and guest speakers are provided on a variety of service needs for seniors. The Web site is www.latinoresource.org
Venice 2000: Focuses on gang intervention and prevention by encouraging youths to stay in or go back to school to finish their education. Also provides services in economic self-sufficiency, helping with business planning as well as achieving employment, mentoring youths in healthy and productive life styles and providing services to help ex-offenders stay on the right track.
A Web site is at www.Venice2000.org
VeniceArts: Offers free art classes to youths six to 18 years old. Photography is its core program, with the focus on the students telling their own stories. Other programs include digital arts, animation, Web design and media arts.
A gallery and a darkroom are located at 1809 Lincoln Blvd., Venice. A Web site is at www.Venice-Arts.org
JUNE OPEN HOUSE — In June there was an open house at The Vera Davis Center to make award presentations and acquaint the community with the center.
Cliff McClain, director of the center, commended Karen Williams and Robert Ayers, parents of McKenna Haslam, for their continual presence at the center.
“It’s her second home,” says Karen. “Not only does she do Annette’s leadership program, she does an after-school homework club which has helped her academically.
“She works through VeniceArts with photography that has helped her grow so much artistically and, then, on top of that, it’s a place that she just hangs out at because she’s involved in all the programs. It’s her home away from home.
“Every woman who works there is like her aunt. It’s her extended family. It gives her a sense of security when we’re at work. It has helped her academically, emotionally, artistically.”
OPPORTUNITIES — There are many volunteer and financial support opportunities available at The Vera Davis Center. McClain has information at (310) 305-7996.
Vera would be proud that her daughter is taking a bigger part in her legacy.
“I’m just trying to continue on with her community work and it was a while before I got into the groove, but I hope I’m an asset to the agencies that are in this particular facility,” says Ramona. “I’m very proud that it’s named after my mother and I want to continue to bring recognition to the name on the building.”
REMEMBERING VERA DAVIS — We’ve had many new people move into Venice in the last eight years, so some of you may be wondering just who this Vera Davis was and what she did to get a building named after her.
To help you better understand, here is an interview I did with Vera in 1996:
A wall in the outer office at the headquarters of LIEU-CAP (Low Income and Elderly United- Community Assistance Program) headquarters on Westminster Avenue in Venice is filled with certificates and awards from city, county, state and federal agencies.
More commendations are piled in an office in need of money for frames and time to put them together. This outpouring of recognition is a testament to the distinguished service that Vera Davis has provided to the community through the years.
The women and children who come through the doors at LIEU-CAP couldn’t ask for a more knowledgeable and understanding person to help them.
“I use myself as a role model,” Vera says, “because I’ve been through all kinds of situations.”
She tells the women, “I was able to do it. So can you. You have to build the kind of confidence within yourself that you can do anything.”
Raised by a great-aunt after her mother died when she was young, Vera spent her childhood in a small Louisiana town about 200 miles from New Orleans.
“That is where I got the inspiration or the training or the commitment for helping others,” she says. “Through my great-aunt’s involvement — she was strictly a people person.
“My great-aunt, or mother, as I came to call her, said that I’ll get my reward in Heaven.
“I thought that was a great way of putting it — so I wouldn’t be looking for a payment back.”
When Vera moved to Southern California in 1950, she was married and had five children. She and her husband settled in Santa Monica.
In 1954 they were one of the first families to move into the newly built Mar Vista Gardens, where she and her then seven children stayed for over 17 years.
Vera and her husband separated in 1963.
“He was an alcoholic,” she says. “He got to be a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. He was physically and verbally abusive. I had to raise seven children almost by myself.
“A judge ordered him to pay child support, but he quit his job rather than have to pay.
“There are few things that I haven’t experienced personally. I know I can be an inspiration and give hope to those people who feel there is no hope.
“If you haven’t been there, you don’t know. I understand the plight of women, but I also understand that you have to accept responsibility — do the best you can.
“You have to take what you have and make what you want — that frame of mind will help you a lot rather than to dwell on the situation.”
Vera started her community service in 1970 with VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). After her training, she organized a welfare rights group in the Mar Vista Gardens project.
Before this, “I was involved in talking to mothers and people having problems,” she says, “but I did not know how to help them.”
After finishing the VISTA program, Vera became director of the Venice NAPP (Neighborhood Adult Participation Project) Center.
The organization started off with 22 centers and, because of financial constraints, was cut back to 13. Then funding was cut off completely.
Vera said she asked, “‘What’s going to happen to the people who we serve?'”
“The people in the main office said, ‘We don’t know what’s going to happen to them. Everybody will have to go their separate ways and staff will have to draw unemployment.’ ”
Vera suggested that all the center directors join together to incorporate in order to receive funding directly.
“They were a group of naysayers,” she says. “They wanted to draw unemployment and some said, ‘Those people don’t care what you do for them.’ ”
So, Vera decided to do it on her own and incorporated in 1983.
“I had to change the name,” she says, “because I wanted to include the people who we serve so they would have some sense of belonging.”
Thus came about the name LIEU-CAP — Low Income and Elderly United Community Assistance Program.
Vera started writing proposals to the city and county, offering to give the same comprehensive service that had been previously provided.
“You have to start things — because you know the needs,” she says. “The government and nobody else is going to start anything.
“By us being near the beach, we had a lot of women coming here for food and for their children. They’d come about two in the afternoon. The kids would be so tired. A lot of them would smell like urine.
“I’d say, ‘Where do you sleep?’ Most of them slept in the toilets. That just broke my heart. It really made me sick.”
A shelter was opened in 1985.
“When we lived in the project,” Vera says, “we had bunk beds in the girls’ room — four girls in one room. With four beds in a room, we can help a woman with three kids — or two mothers with a child each.
“That’s four people we can bring in off the street. That’s where I got the concept — based on my own experience. I know it can be done because I did it.”
Now there is a 30-bed facility in back of the main office and transitional housing across the street.
“The purpose of transitional housing,” Vera says, “is to help the people once they stay here at the shelter for 30 days. Where are you going to put them? Right back out on the street?”
Infant care is next on the agenda.
“We work with Westminster Elementary School and St. Joseph Center to have child care,” Vera says, “but we don’t have anyplace for infants. We need to be able to get the moms out of the house as soon as possible because most all of them need some kind of training and they need to be able to look for jobs.”
Ultimately Vera envisions a multifaceted one-stop place.
“After the infant care,” she says, “I want the ladies who are interested in hairstyling to get their cosmetology certificate to run a salon. There is big business in that. Then, mom can get her hair and nails done and someone can take care of the babies.”
Vera may be miles away from her childhood in Louisiana, but she still lives by words her mother taught her many years ago — “There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us, so it doesn’t behoove any of us to talk about the rest of us.”
Vera Davis and LIEU-CAP are no longer with us but Vera’s legacy will live on for future generations.