Community center reopening, but neighbors worry about cutbacks

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Less than a week after school was let out for the summer, a South Memphis neighborhood is concerned about changes at a safe place for local youth.

The Magnolia community center closed right as school let out for the summer and families claim there wasn’t enough warning provided, leaving them without a productive safe place to send their kids.

Memphis Athletic Ministries runs the facility, and they say it will open back up next Monday. But, there will be changes and less options for kids, and that scares the community.

“I think the responsible thing is just to keep everybody informed, so that they know what’s going on and can be a part of the solution and not a victim of other people’s decisions,” said Dr. Randolph Meade Walker of Castilian Baptist Church.

MAM says they sent a letter of notification to parents last week, but local leaders aren’t satisfied.

“They don’t have any options, especially on short notice, at least to me in my mind,” said Rev. Donald Letcher of Moody Church. “I don’t mind giving them opportunities to be doing things that they ought to be doing. They have no place to gather in the summer.”

MAM said its president, Randy Odom, is out of town on business, but we were told by employees off-camera that Magnolia is not actually closing for good.

They say it will open back up on Monday, but the group claims a lack of funding has forced them to cut classes and staffing.

“Free play” and rec time will still be available under the supervision of a smaller staff, as well as transportation to their closest facility at the Grizzlies Center.

However, that building is over two miles away from Magnolia. On top of added hassle for families and children, there are additional concerns.

“The city can be territorial,” Letcher said. “When you’re moving them to another neighborhood, you might have gangs, you might have other people that don’t want you there, it might become overcrowded. There can be a number of things that can come into play.”

Memphis Athletic Ministries said that funding fluctuates, so the number of facilities and what they can offer rises and falls every year.

While nearby residents understand financial constraints, they refuse to let their children be forgotten, and hope that the community will truly be taken care of.

“We’re not going to go away. They will hear from us and let them know how we feel about the situation, because we think it’s a tragedy,” Letcher said.

MAM employees said whether the center returns to a full classload and staff all depends on funding.

“I think if you can invest in young people, helping them to be all that they can be, I think it’s good for everybody, it benefits them,” Walker said. “I’d much rather see that then have them fall through the cracks.”

— By Peter Fleischer


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