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Youth center is a hub for services

Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Angelina Solis, left, and Namara Shanklin, program leaders at the John W. Wells Youth Center, teach children a craft project.


Madera City’s Parks and Community Services Department provides a diverse list of recreation programs for all ages while preserving parks and landscapes to enhance the quality of life.


The John W. Wells Youth Center, 701 E. 5th Street, serves as an office for administrators and recreation center for children ages 5 to 18. A swimming pool, playground, teen lounge and sound studio are just a few features at the center.


“We’ve got low socioeconomic situations throughout this community,” said Ozzie Naranjo, recreation/community programs 
manager. “We’ve got a lot of kids from various backgrounds.”
The youth center’s programs range from basketball leagues to local tree planting.


“We try to have a balance of programs for every age and balanced program types,” said Mary Anne Seay, director of parks and community services. “Somebody might not be interested in athletics, but they might be interested in our youth leadership programs.”


Naranjo said it has been a task at times trying different programs at the youth center.


“We’ve tried many, many programs. Some do better than others initially,” Naranjo said. “But the goal is to constantly try to find something to engage the youth in.”


Certain programs, such as sports, require registration, but Seay said the center offers drop-in programs where children around the neighborhood can play pool and video games or just hang out.


A playground was added to the center Nov. 17.  As long as there is no rain, Seay said the playground is packed.


Jazmine Flores and Alexandra Barreras, both mothers, went to the park recently for the first time after a friend told them about it. Barreras said they loved it and will be coming back in hopes to tire out their kids.


“I think it’s critical for the Pre-K kids to have supervised non-scripted playtime,” Seay said. “A lot of studies show that kids who are exposed to outdoor play do better in school. If kids do better in school, we have a stronger community.”


Seay said she sees parks as connection to economic development and the mental and physical health of the neighborhood residents.


“One of the things that bothers any solid recreation professional is the phrase that people say, ‘there is nothing in this town for kids to do’ and you hear that repeatedly,” Seay said. “But what we do here is to build programs.”


Although the center has many features and programs, the center also recognizes the importance of education.


“We do after-school programming on campuses at 13 total schools,” Seay said. “We’re on campuses every day doing enrichment and science, technology, engineering, art, math programs.”
Naranjo said the after-school programs at elementary schools offer a more hands-on experience such as building rockets. Middle school and high school programs are formatted to help prepare students for the next phases in their lives.


“We want to get you connected to that thing that you might be interested, which will then lead you away from negative type of influences,” Naranjo said. “That is the hope and the goal of the work in general.”


The administration staff at City of Madera Parks and Community Services is very passionate about the work they provide.


“It’s awesome to be a part of it all,” Naranjo said. “We’re service driven. We’re all about serving our community.


“When I need to really get in tune with the services we provide, you can catch me in the gymnasium shooting hoops with the kids. The funny thing about the people we serve is if you ask, they will tell you what they want, they’ll tell you what they like and I think it is very important for us to always be aware of that.”


Megan Trindad is a student in Gary Rice’s community journalism class at California State University, Fresno.