By Ida Brown
Monday's meeting of the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors included a public hearing about a grant for a new Boys and Girls Club building. The hearing generated shows of support from the city's mayor and local officials, as well as questions from several residents about funding for the project.
County supervisors are applying for up to $600,000 funding through a Community Development Block Grant to partially fund a new building to house a satellite Boys and Girls Club building near the Velma Young Community Center. According to District 4 Supervisor Joe Norwood, the center currently serves about 100 Boys and Girls Club members.
The application for the grant is due May 16, and according to Jenifer Buford, community development director for East Central Planning and Development, the grant is a very competitive program.
"We are competing with 82 other counties and municipalities in the state of Mississippi," Buford said.
The public facilities grant must benefit an area with at least 51 percent low- or moderate-income families, and requires a dollar-for-dollar match.
"Some of that can be contributed through in-kind services," Buford said.
The city of Meridian has committed both money and in-kind. Expressing their support of the project at Monday's meeting were Mayor Percy Bland, Councilman Dustin Markham, Meridian Parks and Recreation Director Kelvin McGruder, Meridian Fire Chief Anthony Hare and Meridian Housing Authority Director Ron Turner Sr.
According to Turner, 500 youth would represent foot traffic to the building, in addition to those who travel by vehicle.
"As I listened to Sheriff (Billy) Sollie quote statistics about our community's juveniles, I was reminded of comments by some of the residential presidents from the Meridian Housing Authority about the need for more things for our juveniles to do in Meridian, and how such a building could serve that need," Turner said.
Noting that District 2 has been underserved for many years, Bland said the city is in support of the project.
"Children and adults will be able to use the facility," he said. "We have several schools in this area – Headstart, an elementary school and middle school, and the high school is not far from the area. This building is something this area needs."
Markham said the building not only would serve the Boys and Girls Club, but also would be used for family gatherings, classes (arts and crafts), sports events such as basketball as well as other activities.
"If you want to decrease crime, if you want to decrease violence, if you want to decrease the rate of teen pregnancy, hostility in that community and renew a sense of pride in that Magnolia/Velma Young area, it's imperative that we build this facility," Markham said.
Ricky Hood, executive director of the East Mississippi Boys and Girls Club, described the need for such a facility as "off the charts" – not just for the city's youth, but also the community.
"I don't want a new Boys and Girls Club. That area needs a facility; it's as simple as that," Hood said. "We have about four churches and 20 community groups that use that building every quarter. I have people wanting to use the (Boys and Girls) building on 45th Avenue; we don't have enough days in the month or the space."
Additionally, Hood said providing a safe haven for the city's youth is the ultimate goal of the project.
"This is so much bigger than sports, so much bigger than the Boys and Girls Club, so much bigger than any one individual or group that wants to do something. This is about saving lives ... giving children somewhere to go," he said. "They don't have a meeting place in the East End area. When they come in the park, a lot of what is happening is the gang guys are there. But if we were to open such a facility today, I guarantee we would have 300-400 kids who would want to go there, as well as community groups who would want to use that facility. We have to think bigger and we have to do something different for our children."
Three residents expressed concerns about undertaking such a project: Tommy Williams, Raymond Huffmaster and Bill Sharp, who each said they were great supporters of the area's youth, but had concerns about the cost to local taxpayers.
"What are we really talking about?" Williams asked the supervisors. "I heard about a month ago about a grant being available, that there were time constraints on getting this end and that it would be competitive for grant money with other counties. And I think I heard that there was about a $600,000 and that the county would have to match the grant. But it's very fuzzy as to what exactly what we're talking about from a financial standpoint."
Williams said such information should be made available to the public more than a month before they are asked to decide on it.
Sharp said while a new building near the Velma Young Community Center is a great idea, other avenues should be considered for funding the project. He added that the community should not be forced to make charitable contributions.
"This public hearing is useless. This is to facilitate something that has not had input from the community."
By Ida Brown
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