Al Wooten Jr. Youth Center keeps kids away from gangs with college-ready programs

The youth center keeps kids away from gangs with its college-ready programs that emphasize STEM fields. He recently received vital funding to install bulletproof glass and Kevlar in the walls of the building to protect children from stray bullets.

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Students participate in college and career preparation programs at the Al Wooten Jr. Youth Center.

By Jason Lewis

The Al Wooten Jr. Youth Center is a vital resource serving 400 children a year, most of whom come from South Los Angeles and Inglewood. The center offers them an alternative to gang life by guiding them to college, but gang activity around the center has caused major security concerns.

The center’s six storefront buildings, which sit on the corner of Western Avenue and 91st Street, were hit by stray bullets, prompting executive director Naomi McSwain to have bulletproof glass and Kevlar installed in the walls.

“We are fortifying this building for COVID safety, and we also have to fortify it because of the bullets,” she said. “We just can’t come back here knowing there’s gang warfare in our area, and it’s exacerbated by COVID. We just didn’t want to wait for someone to finally get hit.

The Al Wooten Jr. Youth Center is located at the corner of Western Avenue and 91st Street.

The center received an $8,000 donation from KROQ-FM to go along with its own funds to add the bulletproof material to three of its buildings, and an additional $23,500 came as a surprise gift to add the material to its three other buildings. .

Community Build, Inc. was to receive a $10,000 donation from Rebuilding Together Of the City of Angeles, but Community Build, Inc. CEO Robert Sausedo asked Rebuilding Together to donate the funds to the Al Wooten Jr. Youth Center. Rebuilding Together donated $13,500 to the project, and Rebuilding Together board member Ron Gold donated an additional $10,000 from the D and E Trust.

The Al Wooten Jr. Youth Center was established after Al Wooten Jr. was shot and killed in 1989. The need for the center arose from the closure of many government-supported youth centers that occurred in height of the gang and cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles. Initially, the center simply offered local children a place to go after school, but over the years it has evolved into something much more impactful.

“We started with homework and basketball,” McSwain said. “We brought board games and took the kids down the street to the bowling alley. That was pretty much all we did. Now we do college and career prep, STEM courses, robotics, and SAT prep.

The center is now focused on sending children to college, and since it started tracking its students seven years ago, 100% of its daily participants went to college before the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19. Many kids started going to the center without having college on their radar, but that quickly changed.

“Some kids may not want to go to college,” McSwain said. “And kids always ask me this question, ‘Well, what if I don’t want to go to college?’ And I say, ‘Well, if you change your mind, you’ll be ready.’ And I saw them change their minds after we took them on college tours and brought in mentors who had different careers. When they found out they had to go to college to be that, I saw them change their minds.

The center offers in-person and online tutoring, which is extremely important as many students fall behind due to school closures and online classes during the pandemic.

“We have parents who say to us, ‘They told me that my child will not go to the next level and I need help. He has to complete these missions. Can we get help? We so let’s give them tutors to help them complete their homework,” McSwain said.

The center offers courses in performing and visual arts, music, world arts and culture, and technology. The STEM program is extremely important because these fields are in high demand.

“We want to make sure our students get that 21st century education so they don’t get left behind,” McSwain said. “So they know what coding and robotics and engineering are.”

Education is a pathway to success and a deterrent to crime.

“Education gives you the type of lifestyle where you don’t have to steal; you don’t have to go to jail; you don’t have to sell drugs,” McSwain said. “Because you have a viable and hopefully well-paying career. We give our children an alternative so they don’t have to engage in things that can kill them or imprison them.

For more information on the Al Wooten Jr. Youth Center, visit www.wootencenter.org.

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