For people in Highway City, the sounds of gunshots and sirens going off in the middle of the night aren’t out of the ordinary.
Kids joining gangs and getting into other types of trouble are also not unusual occurrences.
Across from older homes in this section of Fresno, a canal is surrounded by hundreds of acres of open land littered with garbage and debris.
Abandoned shopping carts and worn out clothing lay atop of weeds and broken, burnt tree branches. The area attracts the homeless and stray animals roam free.
All it takes is a quick drive through the small community located near Highway 99 and Shaw Avenue to get the impression that Highway City has been severely neglected.
Residents Await a Community Resource Center
When resident Rasheedah Salaam heard a community resource center was being built within walking distance of her home, she was overjoyed.
“It would help out a lot,” said Salaam, who has been a resident for three years. “I think a lot of people will benefit from that community center being built. It would give kids more things to do instead of just being at home bored and getting into gangs and all that type of stuff.”
The resource center, officially called The Granville Northwest Community Center, aims to do just that. Leaders say the center will provide after-school tutoring services, a library and a multi-purpose room where local events and activities will be held.
Salaam said she will definitely take her two kids there once it opens.
“A Little Extra Help”
Resident Danette Alonzo said she is in full support of the center. “I am just glad they’ve focused on this little remote area and are helping out the community,” Alonzo said.
“The vision of HCCD has always been to serve the surrounding community and to recognize needs that would serve and empower the community.” —Henry Pauls, chairman of the Highway City Community Development Board of Directors
Ali Saleh, who lives down the block from where the center is going up, said it will be a great addition to the Highway City area.
“It is great news,” Saleh said, adding that he will have his kids utilize the services provided at the center: “I would do that, they would benefit from a little extra help.”
Enhancing the quality of life for area residents is the ultimate goal of the center, said Henry Pauls, chairman of the Highway City Community Development Board of Directors.
“The vision of HCCD has always been to serve the surrounding community and to recognize needs that would serve and empower the community,” he said.
Project Consists of Two Phases
Construction on the center began a little over two weeks ago. A ceremonial groundbreaking event was held August 9.
April Henry, executive director of HCCD, said the project will be developed in two phases. The first consists of a 5,500 square-foot building, which will include a multi-purpose room, a room for after-school tutoring, and a small library. Henry said the center will also include a health office for wellness checks, dental services, and vision screenings.
Henry said she expects Valley Vanguard Properties to finish construction on the first phase in June 2019. For the second phase, Henry said there are several possibilities on the table. The planned centerpiece is the construction of a Fresno County branch library behind the center.
“That is five to 10 years down the road based on Measure B funding coming in, so it is not really all decided,” Henry said. “But it is definitely a future for them.”
Over a Decade In The Making
Henry said talks about the center began in 2004, but were soon put on hold due to the Great Recession.
When she came on board with the non-profit HCCD in 2014, Henry wanted to know if a community resource center was still something the community wanted.
“I developed surveys and did community action points and it was definitely something that was a much-needed resource for our community,” Henry said. “So we started to see if we could raise funding and start work on it.”
Henry said major funding partners for the center included Granville Homes, the Fresno Housing Authority, the Fresno County Public Library, Wells Fargo and Central Community Church.
(Disclosure: Granville Homes is the parent company of GV Wire.)
Much-Needed Community Asset
Preston Prince, the CEO and executive director of the Fresno Housing Authority, said he is ecstatic about the project moving forward.
“It is just really powerful that we are able to partner up with Granville to bring this really valuable resource to that neighborhood,” Prince said. “It is the first time we have done anything like this, but it feels really good when we think about all of the kids and families that the (center) is going to help as a result.”
Henry said the community resource center will be invaluable: “We don’t have anything like this west of the 99 so we are really proud that this is something that we are going to finally be able to have as a hub.”
This story has been updated.