Who's in charge of Soria City afterschool program?

By Elise Roberts - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - An after school tutorial program is creating some controversy in one Gulfport neighborhood.

The Soria City Civic Organization says it's responsible for the community's tutorial program, but the city of Gulfport says that's not the case.

Monday through Friday dozens of children head to the Willie Locke Community Center for tutorial help. There are volunteers, arts and crafts and snacks. But who's in charge of the program seems to be causing quite a stir.

Homework help is what these students get every day after school.

Members of the Soria City Civic Organization, retired teachers and other community volunteers are what drive the neighborhood's tutorial program.

"My wife is born and raised in this community, so we come back and volunteer," said volunteer Lynn Wyche.

Even though Wyche doesn't live in Soria City, he's committed to the neighborhood.

"We think what happens here may not affect us. It has a grave effect on us, because these children become not productive citizens of society. Guess what? We all pay for them," said Wyche.

Civic leaders say it's not uncommon for volunteers like Wyche to spend money out of their own pockets to help fund the tutorial program. So when they found out the city of Gulfport was taking credit, they got upset.

"No one else was taking the steps to do this," said Dorothy McClendon.

McClendon is the voice of the Soria City Civic Organization. That's the same organization she says is responsible for the afterschool tutorial program at the Willie Locke Community Center.

"We as an organization said it's time for us to bring something for our children here in the community for them to excel," McClendon said.

While the civic organization is vital to the project, Gulfport leaders say the program belongs to the city.

"At the end of the day, the city has to make the tough decisions because we are liable for anything that happens," said Gulfport Public Information Officer Ryan Lafontaine.

Lafontaine says since the tutorial program is being held in a city owned and city run building, the city is responsible for the program. However, leaders won't deny it needs the community's help.

"We want them to work with us," said Lafontaine. "Let both sides work together and come together and help this program run smoothly for the kids sake."

Tuesday, members of the Soria City Civic Organization along with representatives from the Mississippi Center for Justice met with officials from the Department of Leisure Services and Councilwoman Libby Milner Roland.

"The purpose of this meeting was to gain clarity from the City of Gulfport as to the proper procedures for scheduling and steering youth after school programming at the Willie Lock Community Center," said Annette Hollowell with the Mississippi Center for Justice

"The Department of Leisure Services has committed to engage in more thorough conversations with the Civic Organization regarding the successful operation of programs for the benefit of the youth of Soria City.  We believe that better lines of communication will result from this meeting, and are hopeful about working with the Department of Leisure Services in the near future," said Hollowell.

As far as funding for the tutorial program, Gulfport city leaders said they are reviewing supply requests from Soria City leaders.

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