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Posted on Dec 10, 2015

A city rec center would help curb juvenile crime, improve quality of life

I was outraged to learn that the Quincy City Council will postpone breaking ground on a new recreation center until 2018.
Most children in our community are devoid of opportunities for recreation. When young people are stuck in their homes, zoning out in front of video screens, they can and do become restless. In the age of instant messaging, instant gratification and trophies for participation, children often grow up believing that success is a birthright, not a tireless effort.
For kids to grow into productive well-adjusted adults, they should get to experience a variety of extracurricular activities on a regular and reliable basis.
A robust recreation center offering a wide array of after-school learning, sports and personal development programs would radically improve our children’s immediate quality of life and provide a foundation for future success. In Ft. Myers, Fla., children who participated in the Success through Academics and Recreational Support after-school program received better grades than their latch-key counterparts who did not. Dropout, depression and gang participation rates are considerably higher among latch-key kids who do not have access to recreation programs. When our children win, we win as a community as well.
Here is what the research shows. In Cincinnati, Ohio, juvenile criminal activity dropped 24 percent during the first 13 weeks of an evening basketball program offered there. Similarly, juvenile crime rates in Phoenix, Ariz., fell 52 percent during their summer evening basketball program. In Arizona, it costs about $40,000 a year to incarcerate a juvenile but admission to a basketball session costs 74 cents a person.
The cost of building a state-of-the-art recreation center pales in comparison to the crime reduction and increased quality of life every Quincy resident will inevitably enjoy as a result. Isn’t it our social and fiscal responsibility to avoid additional strain on our county and state coffers to fund juvenile detention?
In light of the recent rash of vandalism to local businesses and robberies during the Thanksgiving weekend, it is clear that boredom without positive outlets in place for formal recreation spawn an environment ripe for mischief. Conscientious parents do their best to guide their children to make good choices, but it isn’t always enough.
A recreation center will strengthen community ties, increase neighborhood participation and propagate a sense of pride and connection that does not currently exist in Quincy. If our young people feel connected to the community, they will be less inclined to commit crimes and less tempted by the insidious lure of gang involvement.
Quincy needs a recreation center now, not in 2018. While constructing a green space (as part of a road improvement project along 6th Avenue and A Street Northeast) may be considered a viable alternative by some, the reality is that it would be underutilized because of weather extremes. Why not shelve the green space project and use some of the $1.3 million that the city earmarked for that road project to prioritize building a recreation center instead?
Please join me in attending city council meetings to let our council members know that building a recreation center should be one of their highest priorities. To coordinate city council meeting attendance, I can be reached at recforqtown@gmail.com. To my Hispanic compadres out there, I’d love to hear from you. Your voice matters, too.

Sandy Zavala is a former healthcare researcher, social worker and counselor who lives in Quincy with her family.

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