As efforts continue to build a new multi-purpose community center in one of the most populated parts of Meridian, some who live in the eastern part of the city are hopeful that the center will help curb crime.
"Children these days are getting out of hand; they're getting out of whack," says Marie Howard. She lives in East Meridian. Because she says many parents are not teaching their children properly, Howard feels that a new large community center in the Velma Young Park area will help keep at least some kids out of trouble.
Lauderdale County supervisors recently approved an effort to seek a $600,000 federal grant that will help fund the center; that grant requires at least a dollar-for-dollar match.
"So many private investors have stepped up saying that we want to give to help out," says Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors President, Josh Todd. "So, I think that this is a great thing. Everybody's getting behind us. The community is getting behind us, and supporting us. I think that we're going to get the grant, I really do."
Vowing to provide about $250,000 in in-kind services for the project, the county is asking the City of Meridian to commit to providing at least $600,000 for the project.
"The CAO is going to get with the council, and discuss possibly what we can put up to match with the grant," says Meridian City Council Vice-President Dustin Markham.
According to the director for the Meridian Housing Authority, his agency is willing to commit $50,000 for the project. Ron Turner says that if built, the center will serve up to 500 young people who live in four public housing developments that are within that area. With the housing authority also committing to provide transportation if needed for local children to and from Boys and Girls Club activities at the center, East Mississippi Boys and Girls Club Director Ricky Hood is in strong support of the project.
"So, these kids are everywhere," says Hood. "They're unsupervised, and it's time for somebody to do it. The bottom line is that this community knows that we have a problem with gang activity, with youth gang activity, and it's not just in the East End area, it's all over this community, and it's time to address it. It's time to be honest about it because we're not going to solve this issue by continuing to look the other way."
The Meridian City Council is expected to vote on whether or not to provide funding for the project when its meeting continues Friday. The deadline to apply for the grant is May 16th. Meanwhile, the current community center at Velma Young Park serves 75 Boys and Girls Club students Monday through Friday.