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Published: Thursday, 7/24/2014 - Updated: 1 year ago


Fight gangs with meals and baseball


Tonya Duran runs Believe Center Inc. at the Aurora Gonzales Center in South Toledo. She works with gangs in the South End.

She is successful not because she is a lady you obviously would not want to mess with, though you wouldn’t. It’s because, she told me when I went to meet with her recently, she has a plan for these kids.

The plan is fundamental: A place to play sports; a place where you can be fed; a place to be.

She has enrolled 524 kids. On school days, she typically has 50 to 100 kids in the building, an old Y. In summers, she has 100 to 200 kids at a time.

Any youngster under 18 can eat at the Believe Center — three meals a day.

The center offers football, basketball for boys and girls, cheerleading, soccer, and boxing. The day I visited, young women were playing basketball in the late afternoon. The boys were coming next.

Men’s basketball used to be 8 to midnight. Ms. Duran recently asked them to end play at 9 p.m. so she could go home.

“I was just tired,” she said. She told me she received no salary until recently.

Now she gets $800 a month.

“It’s something,” she said. “My sons take care of me.”

Ms. Duran also wants to bring back Libbey Field for play. She has the support of the Rev. Chet Trail of the Grace Temple Church of God in Christ. The Rev. Trail, a Libbey High athletic legend who made it to the roster of the New York Yankees, also wants to bring back the field. He wants to build a state-of-the-art athletic facility — starting with a baseball field and practice facility.

He told me he wants to honor Libbey High and revive the interest of minority kids in baseball.

The ultimate complex he envisions might cost as much as $2.5 million to $3 million. But a baseball field he thinks will cost only about $250,000. The Rev. Trail has a commitment from major league baseball to match whatever he can raise. So, really, the Libbey Field of Dreams should only cost about $125,000, plus some money for planning and design — chump change.

It would be there for the neighborhood, but also youth travel teams and adult leagues. The tougher question is, how it will be managed and maintained? The city is not currently involved. But it ought to be. This is anti-gang programming and youth development.

It can work.

Right now, the idea needs visibility and buy-in from the neighborhood, as well as from Libbey alums, whose number includes the mayor and his chief of staff. The next step is to create an endowment, perhaps with grants from local corporations, a design plan, and a staffing plan.

Want to fight gangs?

Jobs, sports, and meals.

Ms. Duran is doing it. A Libbey Field of Dreams would do it too. Dreams can lift us up. Specific dreams are even better.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.

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