MODESTO — For three years, a group of airport neighborhood moms has met in parks, a karate studio and at Orville Wright Elementary School to talk about how to make the poor, crime-riddled community a better place for families.
The moms now have a place to call their own.
About 70 people including about two dozen of the moms gathered Thursday for the opening of the airport neighborhood's first community center, which is a partnership among Modesto, Modesto City Schools and the Tuolumne River Trust. The crowd included officials from the city, school district and county, which also is working to improve the neighborhood.
"Thank you for making this dream become possible," Yasmin Salceda, one of the moms and community leaders, said to the crowd before the community center doors opened and the crowd thronged inside.
Airport neighborhood residents have wanted a community center for many years. The center will provide a safe place for residents to gather, for after-school programs and for strategy sessions to improve the community, which is bordered by E.&J. Gallo Winery to the west, the Modesto Airport to the east, Yosemite Boulevard to the north and the Tuolumne River to the south.
Modesto spent about $500,000 in federal funds to turn a vacant, boarded-up duplex into the community center. It is on the 800 block of Empire Avenue, next to Orville Wright Elementary School, and in the heart of the airport neighborhood.
A local business donated the office furniture for the center, which has three offices, bathrooms, a reception area and a large meeting room. It also has a room for a commercial kitchen, but Modesto needs to come up with the funding to provide the equipment.
Modesto could staff one of the offices with code enforcement or community development workers, the school district will take the second office and the Tuolumne River Trust will occupy the third. The trust is providing activities for neighborhood children and working with the moms on improving the neighborhood.
Some of those efforts include curbing the number of stray dogs wandering the neighborhood, and plans for a community garden in the center's back yard and a weekly farmers market.
Thursday's ceremony included the public debut of the neighborhood moms performing a Zumba dance routine. The women have been getting together twice a week for several months for Zumba, and on Thursday, they showed off their moves.
"It was fun," Salceda said. "We were ready."
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2316.