Gulfport children protest closing of community center - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Gulfport children protest closing of community center

By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Some Gulfport school children are hoping someone will listen to what they have to say about closing a community center. The Soria City Civic Organization began running an after school program out of the Willie Lock Community Center early last year. Right now, that program is in limbo.

The Soria City Civic Organization says each day about 25 children come for mentorship and meals. With Gulfport not renewing its lease on the community center, the civic group has nowhere to hold its summer program. Members say if they don't find a place to go, thousands of dollars in grant money could be lost.

heir voices were small but their message was clear. Children marched in protest as Gulfport Leisure Services employees cleared out the place they go for after-school tutoring.

"We do our homework here cause we need help sometimes so we ask somebody in the building," said 7-year-old Makena Wyche.

With school out, the Soria City Civic Organization had reading, art and recreational activities planned for the kids. Now the president says the $7,000 CDBG grant to run the summer program may have to be given back.

"For it to be just be taken away from them, it hurts me," said Dorothy McClendon, president. "It hurts me and also it angers me that anything to this point that you are shutting down a community. The only center in the community that the kids have."

Gulfport officials say the decision not to renew the lease at Willie Lock was a financial one based on the mayor's budget reduction plan. While the 25 year lease was free of charge, city officials said there were other expenses.

Spokesperson Ryan LaFontaine released a statement. "There are 3 other city-owned community centers within a mile and a half of the Soria City neighborhood."

"With the city being financially responsible for maintenance and upkeep on the building and the grounds, paying for staff and for the utilities, on a building that the city does not own, it became apparent that renewing the lease would not be possible, especially when comparing the cost of upkeep and the limited number of events that were being booked at Willie Locke. We have adjusted the hours at all of our centers based on the amount they were being used. "

Now, all hope for the civic group's program rests with the owner of the building which is the Gulfport School District.

McClendon said, "What I would like to see happen is that this building stays open. Whoever the ownership is at this point to work with us. Keep this building open. 

We're already approved for funding to fund this program all the way to December of 2010. Let us continue on doing for our children in our community so they have somewhere to go. That's what I want to happen."

Gulfport Schools Superintendent Glenn East says plans are to rent the community center out to groups for meetings and special events. The Soria City Civic Organization's president says she sent letters on Thursday to East and the school board asking for a meeting to discuss continued use the building.

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