South Merced rally puts focus on youth

abutt@mercedsunstar.comMay 31, 2012 

Cristian Hernandez, 18, says South Merced needs its pool. McNamara Pool was an important investment in the community, he said, because it gave neighborhood youth something to do -- swim -- and helped them stay out of trouble.

Hernandez, a senior at Golden Valley High School, said he plans to swim in the pool if it reopens this summer, as city officials have pledged. He was among the 30 South Merced residents and politicians who showed up at the Rally to Invest in Merced's Youth at McNamara Park on Wednesday afternoon.

"It's something that's good for the youth," he said.

Speakers urged the city to keep investing in its youth, not just in South Merced but throughout the city.

They said the city should stand behind the pledges it made when it signed the Children's Bill of Rights for Merced County in 2010.

About 2 percent of the city's discretionary funding goes toward youth services and programs, said Pastor Nailah Hubbard of Mount Pisgah AME Zion Church.

"I know we can do better," she said. "Our commitment to youth must be consistent. Youth matter."

South Merced residents have argued the pool is a safe alternative for neighborhood children because of the supervision there and the family-friendly environment.

During the last City Council meeting, Mayor Stan Thurston said the pool would reopen, thanks to a large number of anonymous donations. Funds to reopen the pool have also come from the Merced Irrigation District, and politicians such as Merced County Supervisors Hub Walsh and John Pedrozo, and Sheriff Mark Pazin.

The pool is scheduled to open June 14, city officials said.

The city estimates it will cost roughly $64,000 to open and run the pool through August. Once the reconstruction is done, it will cost about $30,000 a year to operate the pool. But city officials have said it would be fiscally irresponsible to dedicate funding beyond this summer.

Joey Chavez, recreation supervisor, said the city is working on long-term solutions to keep the pool open in the future, as donations continue to come in.

Councilwoman Mary-Michal Rawling said she was excited the pool would be reopening, but apprehensive that the proposed budget didn't include money to open it next year. She stressed the community should continue to support the cause at a City Council budget session held Wednesday afternoon, as well as at future meetings.

"Our youth deserve more, but it will only come when the community demands it," she said.

South Merced residents and other community members want the pool to remain open in the future because they see it as something positive for young people.

"The main message is for the city to invest in our youth, so I think the McNamara Pool is symbolic of a larger effort that we hope will be accomplished with a partnership of youth and residents," said Tatiana Vizcaino-Stewart of Building Healthy Communities.

Building Healthy Communities is a project that is trying to help bring a healthier way of living to some of the most underserved communities in California, and South Merced is one of the areas in which it's working.

She said the community needs a "tangible commitment" from the city, not just for pool funding this summer, but beyond.

Vizcaino-Stewart acknowledged that the city worked to reopen the pool but said residents want a greater commitment from the city to stand behind making youth a priority.

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsunstar.com.

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