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Festival benefits center for youth, veterans
Community site's staff seeks expansion to better serve 3,000 who seek help
Mary Forrest prepares to paint a design on her arm Saturday at the Veterans and Community Outreach festival. - photo by Tom Reed

How to help

Donations for the Veterans and Community Outreach Foundation's C.C. Cloud Youth Center can be mailed to:

996 Athens Highway, Suite E,

P.O. Box 3115, Gainesville, Ga 30501

To learn more about volunteer opportunities, call 770-531-0046

It would be fair to say that the C.C. Cloud Youth Center sits on the road less traveled, both figuratively and literally.

It's located near the intersection of Athens Highway and West Ridge Road in Gainesville, tucked inconspicuously behind a gas station.

Saturday morning, center staff opened up there doors for a fall festival and community tours.

"From the street you can't see our 3,000-square-foot community center, or the playground that's needed," said Rev. Victor Johnson, the center's CEO.

"We want to inform the public about what we have here. You can't inform, if they can't see - out of sight, out of mind."

What the center has is a community computer lab, meeting rooms, a library and common areas for students to hang out. Outside, there's a community garden, recreational space and an open area where the center hopes to install playground equipment.

While its location may place it off the radar for many, center officials say they are in the heart of a community with low-income families and at-risk youth that needs them most.

One of the center's main programs is the STARS - Striving To Achieve and Reach Success - youth program. Through STARS, the youth center offers after-school programs, homework assistance, an art program and other recreational activities.

"If we can save just one kid, that's what this is all about," Johnson said.

"A lot of times, they are latch-key kids and find themselves at a dead end street with drugs or gangs. We want to save our community."

Johnson says the center isn't just for the youth that want to stay on the straight and narrow, they also want to reach out to the youth who would like to get back on the right track.

"We've noticed gang activity around the community, writing on buildings and what not. We don't want that around here," Johnson said.

"In most cases they are in a gang because they're looking for love. They don't have to write on buildings to be loved. They can come here - we can give them alternatives to hanging in the streets and getting into trouble."

Also housed at the center is the Veterans and Community Outreach Foundation, which offers assistance to veterans, individuals in recovery and prison outreach.

All in all, the center staff say they help more than 3,000 people each year.

Like most other nonprofits, the center has run into a tight spot, financially speaking. According to Michelle Lowe Mintz, program manager, the center needs to raise around $30,000 to meet immediate operating costs to make up for reduced governmental funding and a drop in major donor gifts.

"Everyone is having troubles, but with the help of our board members, we're able to keep things going," Johnson says.

"We've streamlined our programs and learned better ways of doing things. It's been a struggle, but we're keeping it going."