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Monday, November 26, 2007

Pastor Strives to Keep East Palo Alto Youths Safe


News article on the Pastor Bains' "Lord's Gym" project:
EAST PALO ALTO — Pingpong balls whizzed by Pastor Paul Bains' head as he played his own game, paddle in hand.

He stared at his opponent across the table and prepared to strike.

Whack!

The ball smacked the net.

Bains placed the paddle on the table and went about his business — creating positive peer pressure.

Around him, at-risk teens played inside Lord's Gym Community Center on their lunch break last week.

"You have to touch their hearts so you can help them change their minds," Bains said. "We talk to them about staying in school and going to college. These kids have potential. They have energy."

For the last few weeks, the center has been a haven for the community's youth. To them, Bains is known as "Preach," "Uncle Paul" or "Pastor Paul."

The 46-year-old is the pastor at St. Samuel Church of God in Christ on East Bayshore Road and a senior chaplain for the East Palo Alto Police Department.

Bains said he opened the community center because he got tired looking down at the bodies that are "victims of crime and perpetrators of crime."

Last year after a Sunday service, he was called to a double homicide. Bains recalled that those involved were reportedly 13-and 17-year-old rival gang members. The next day, an 18-year-old woman was killed elsewhere.

Bains said she was an innocent bystander.

"I'm tired of looking at bodies," he said, and clasped his hands in frustration. "I'm just sick of it. We have to do a better job of reaching their souls."

So under his nonprofit organization — Project WeHope — Bains decided to rent two warehouse spaces next door to Aspire-Phoenix Academy, a public charter school. His congregation is also helping raise money for Lord's Gym Community Center.

He modeled some of the center after The Lord's Gym Sports Center in Roseville, which was founded by Doug Bird, senior pastor of Abundant Life Fellowship.

"I'm trying to show love to them regardless of where they come from," Bains said. "These guys and girls will make you cry by how they're struggling with their families."

Bains needs to raise $270,000 to fund leasing for a year, hire staff and renovate the warehouse. He has raised around $33,000.

"We've been living hand-to-mouth," Bains said.

At the gym, people from ages 13 to 30 are able to take karate lessons, sponsored by the Ravenswood Youth Athletic Association. They also can take dance classes.

Ideally, Bains' goal is to put in an indoor soccer area and have an exercise and weight area. He also wants the center to be available to the community all day, six days a week.

The cost for kids will soon be $5 a month. But Bains said if there are kids who can't afford that, they can do volunteer work in lieu of the fee.

Meanwhile, students at Aspire-Phoenix Academy often use the center during their lunch period.

"We're having fun and letting out our energy," said 14-year-old Edgar Cruz of East Palo Alto. "I feel safe here."

Pastor John Lotti (Liotti, edit mine) of St. Samuel Church agreed with Bains and said there aren't that many options for kids in the community.

"Because East Palo Alto has a generally high crime rate and youth delinquency problem, there continues to be a need for places to go that are safe and positive," Lotti (Liotti) said.

Sixteen-year-old Izamar Farias said young people have wanted a community center for a long time.

"I go during lunch, and I make the most of it," the East Palo Alto resident said. "(In the evenings) it helps the youth of East Palo Alto to get together and have a good time."

On Feb.8, Project WeHope will hold a fundraiser for the community center at Four Seasons Hotel in East Palo Alto. For more information, call 650-330-8002.

Find the article here.

1 comment:

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