Children from the Maravilla housing project will soon take part in sports and other activities at a community center supervised through the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Because of $123,000 in federal and city grants, the children will be able to attend the East L.A. Sheriff's Youth Activities League Community Center year-round.
The goal is to give children good, year-round supervised recreational activities, said Loretta A. Hernandez, property supervisor at Maravilla.
"This is like an extension of what we offer at Maravilla."
At an open house last week, about 60 children from Maravilla ran through the rooms at the community center, 4360 Dozier Ave., playing Foosball and talking to Girl and Boy Scout leaders about their programs.
Hernandez, who did not know how many children would participate in the program, said she plans to target children who are deemed at risk of joining gangs and who are causing trouble at school.
"Maybe this is an opportunity for us to pull in kids who are on the edge," she said.
The center is housed in the former Cleland House, which had been boarded up and taken over by gangs before the Youth Activities League bought it and refurbished it in 1992. It offers boxing, swimming, racquetball, weight training, karate and basketball. It also provides space for the Scouts, computer and tutoring services and literacy classes. It has about 900 members.
Although the expansive Belvedere Park is just across the street from the housing project on Cesar E. Chavez Avenue, Hernandez said, parents are concerned about their children's safety there and wanted the more direct supervision that will be offered at the community center.
The agreement with the center ensures that a supervisor, Dan Aparicio, a Sheriff's Department reserve officer, will oversee the recreational activities. He will also drive the children to and from the center, eliminating another fear that parents have of having their children cross gang territories.
As mariachis trumpeted familiar tunes to celebrate the open house, children at a nearby Foosball table erupted in cheers and laughter as they scored another point. Maravilla, they said, has some programs for them, such as jazz dance and field trips. But there are no Foosball tables there.
"I like this place because there are a lot of activities," said Cynthia Garcia, 11, who with her friend Misty Rene had snatched up some soda and ran to play more Foosball.
Unlike most of the children at the table, Cynthia has been to the center before to swim and watch her older sister as she boxed. She said she hopes to return to join the Girl Scouts and swim.
"One summer, we realized we didn't have anything for the kids," Hernandez said. "We knew they were revitalizing this center, so we've been developing a relationship with them. They stress membership and belonging. There's a sense of ownership and this is in our back yard."