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Churches offers FUN to combat influence of Manteca gangs
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It is a ray of hope.

One of Manteca’s smallest churches –Southside Christian – is slowly chipping away at the influence of gangs with their Friday Unity Night (FUN) in the Neighborhood.

Every Friday night in June, July, and August they open the doors to their church and grounds for a safe place for youth 6 to 17 in the neighborhood to gather to play games, enjoy free refreshments ranging from pizza to fresh fruit and vegetables and for educational programs aimed at helping them be healthy and succeed in life.

Pastor Quincy McClain and her congregation launched the program even though gangs didn’t pose an immediate problem to any of it membership families. Instead, they simply wanted to make a difference in the lives of kids who live nearby that often don’t have any alternatives except fall under the influence of gangs.

“Pastor McClain and her congregation and volunteers are getting over 100 kids a night during the summer,” noted Police Chief Dave Bricker. “It’s a great program. We need more like it. We can’t keep telling kids there are alternatives to gangs and then not provide them.”

Police have indicated it isn’t unusual for kids as young as second, third, and fourth graders to be pressured to join gangs after school or to “chose sides” when they are competing gangs in their neighborhood in order to feel safe.

The FUN effort is gearing up for its third summer. They are looking for volunteers who want to help the effort. You don’t have to be a member of the congregation. In fact, many of their volunteers aren’t given that the congregation numbers are in the dozens.

Two volunteer meetings are scheduled. They are both on Fridays – May 7 and May 14 – from 6 to 8 p.m. at the church located at 314 Locust Ave. Light refreshments will be served. McClain asks that you RSVP by April 30 by calling 275-2154 and if possible attend one of the two sessions. Donations are also needed to help cover the cost of the summer program.

The weekly summer programs run from 6 to 9 p.m. every Friday. Volunteers have been impressed not only with the enthusiasm of the participants to learn from them but their desire to do things right. For example, it isn’t unusual for the fresh vegetables and fruit to be polished off long before the pizza is gone.

“We believe we have a responsibility to invest in the overall well-being of students in our community,” McClain noted. “We do this in the spirit of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’.  Our volunteers provide supervision and support to youth (such as) basketball, ping pong, air hockey, volleyball, bounce house, table games.”

This year they are planning to conduct 12 sessions of the FUN Club Program.  June is Health Education & Awareness Month “You Are What You Eat & Drink”, July is Empowerment Month “Say No to Gangs, Drugs, Crime, Alcohol, and Tobacco”, and August is Back to School Month “Be Cool Stay in School: You Must be a High School Graduate”.  

“This is a wonderful opportunity to provide outreach to students of this community,” McClain said. “Our goals are to provide a safe and healthy environment, connecting youth with community resources, and helping to equip them with life decision skills.”