Las Vegas Sun

September 16, 2014

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CLARK COUNTY COMMISSION:

Club within, an island of calm, safety, helps children find path to success

Safe at home

Kids and staff members play an outdoor game of dodgeball at Club Christ, an after-school program located inside the Buena Vista Springs apartment complex in North Las Vegas. From left are Paris Miller, 11, staff member Kendra Perry, Kierra Hlavacek, 10, Dezuan Fisher, 12,  Keanna Hlavacek, 12, and volunteer Linda Varela. Launch slideshow »

Myzaveon Riley can still hear the dry pop of gunshots in his ears. He and his friend Tavis were playing hoops, four years ago. They just ran.

“Anybody could get shot, even if you’re doing nothing,” Riley, 16, says, summing up the slice of life at Buena Vista Springs, which for years has been visited by North Las Vegas Police nearly twice a day.

But the 10th grader found a way to lower his odds of getting into trouble. A short jog from Buena Vista’s rental office, Candace Rink and a group of mostly volunteers have been giving Riley and dozens of other children at Buena Vista Springs a place to do their homework, get a healthy snack and stay out of trouble since 2002.

Run from a two-bedroom apartment, the project is called Club Christ, which means Rink and her colleagues also pray with the children and offer Bible classes.

For nearly 100 elementary- to high-school-aged students during the past six years, the club has meant the difference between staying in school with passing grades and becoming another grim statistic.

But when Clark County and North Las Vegas submitted a plan Dec. 1 to the federal Housing and Urban Development Department for demolishing 250 apartments at Buena Vista, the local governments left out Club Christ.

The resulting uncertainty weighed on Rink and the students at the center on a recent afternoon.

Rink said management at Buena Vista hadn’t answered her questions about the demolition plan. She said breaking up the club would be a step backward for many of the children, many of whom live in single-parent households with mothers who hold two or more jobs.

Rink says she doesn’t know of one dropout among the dozens of boys and girls who have come through the club. She thinks this is because of staff and volunteers getting involved with students in the same way that parents typically do in middle-class households — going to school meetings, for example. Then there’s the attention they pay to the children’s health.

The club’s location — next door to where the children live — is key to its success, they said.

The club is run on a shoestring: three staff members, materials, computers and field trips get penciled into an annual budget of $142,000. The money comes from private donors and area churches; the club is planning on opening a Henderson branch in February.

Creative Choice West, the owner of the complex, donates the apartment for the club’s current location.

On a recent afternoon, Riley was writing an essay in the program’s classroom, its chairs with desks lined in rows. Riley’s theme: It’s bad to make fun of people.

The teenager pointed out that Buena Vista, though gritty and dangerous, had brought him to the club, which “would be really hard to lose.” He credited Rink and her colleagues with pushing him toward more A’s and B’s than C’s — and no F’s — on his most recent report card.

Also, he said, “it helps me to understand what I have to do to be a better son.”

Both Buena Vista and the club have been a source of relationships, Riley added. Last year, when HUD moved out about 800 people because of concerns about the conditions of their apartments, he lost seven friends.

Now, he said, “I would be devastated if I made a friend really cool and then they leave.”

He motioned to the seat in back of him, where Jasmine Johnson was popping goldfish crackers into her mouth. Johnson, 17, moved into Buena Vista three months ago. She found the club recently. “Here, I don’t have to worry about getting in no gangs,” she said.

Riley playfully stole some of her goldfish.

Second grader Caleb Ormond burst in, wearing a smile full of teeth, proud of a first for him: It was only Wednesday and all of his homework for the week was done. Volunteer Linda Varela mirrored Ormond’s grin.

It was the time of day when the younger ones replace the older ones. Four teens, including Riley and Johnson, held hands with Rink to pray.

“Lord, thank you for getting us home safely. And thank you for touching people’s hearts before something bad happens,” a bouncy 15-year-old girl said.

Then the teens walked out into the darkening late afternoon.

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