It’s an unlikely location for a youth-focused community center — tucked away behind a gas station, in the middle of an industrial area and adjacent to an auto-repair shop.
But there, off West Ridge Road in Gainesville, sits the C.C. Cloud Youth Center.
In addition to its regular after-school programs, the center also offers a summer camp for low-income youth ages 6 to 13.
"This helps to keep the children out of the street. A lot of our parents are working and they need this camp so that they don’t have to worry about their children while they are away," said administrator Carolyn Cheeks.
In this "inner-city" community, the folks at the youth center have turned an unsightly lot into a welcoming place for children.
Instead of the usual brightly colored playground equipment and shiny basketball goals that you would expect to see at a youth center, the C.C. Cloud "playground" is mostly a cracked concrete parking lot that runs into a dusty side-yard with sparse patches of grass.
And in place of shade-providing trees, the only shelter available from the hot summer sun is a worn, white canopy that is missing a few support beams in the roof, so that it sags in places and leans a bit off center.
However, instead of focusing on what they don’t have, staff members have made the most of what they do have: a few faithful volunteers.
The staff has dedicated itself to providing the dozens of campers with life-enriching experiences over the summer.
Staffers haven’t settled just for taking the campers on the usual swimming and bowling trips and providing them with daily academic lessons to keep their minds fresh for the upcoming school year. They’ve gone beyond that.
Among other things, they took the children on a road trip to attend an Atlanta Dream WNBA game.
"We try to expose the children to a variety of experiences through community guests and field trips along with enrichment activities," said Michelle Lowe Mintz, center administrator. "We want to show the children that the world is bigger than just their immediate neighborhood."
Thanks to local artist Marianne Scott, who brought her YouthArts program to the center, the children have been treated to weekly art activities.
So far they’ve painted murals to beautify the outside of the building, weaved puppets from yarn and even painted colorful banners to along the fence to obscure the view of the adjacent auto repair shop.
"We’ve divided the kids into five groups, they could choose music, dance, puppetry, visual arts or poetry," said Scott. "The theme for the summer is ‘Over the rainbow’, so we’ve been incorporating that into their art projects."
"This is the first time that I’ve painted something like this," said Moelete Stephens, a 12-year-old South Hall Middle School student who was working on the outdoor mural.
Moelete is a regular at the center and for the summer he brought along his cousin, Gaquon Stephens.
"I like to draw — mostly cars and people," said Gaquon, a 13-year-old C.W. Davis Middle School student.
"But working on the mural was fun, especially since we are hanging it outside for everybody to see."
A local Master Gardeners group also visited the campers and helped them plant a garden. Besides lots of flowering plants, the campers also got to plant some vegetables like collard greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and spinach.
During the summer, the campers have been able to help pick the mature vegetables that were then served for lunch.
"Planting the gardens has been my favorite part of camp," said Mary Forrest, a 9-year-old Fair Street Elementary School student.
"They showed us all the steps and told us that we have to water them every day. I want to plant one at home now."
Although the center has done a lot for the campers already, center officials say they could do a lot more with more volunteers and more community support.
"If it wasn’t for us, a lot of them would be latch-key kids. That’s no way for a child to live, but a lot of these parents don’t have any other choice because they have to work," said Rev. Victor Johnson, the center’s CEO.
"We need more churches to step in and help us. There are a couple of groups who help us, but we need more support from the community. These aren’t just our kids, they’re everyone’s kids."