The Venice Community Center

Smack in the center of Venice, where Oakwood, Milwood, Abbot Kinney Blvd. and Central Venice (the old canal area) intersect lies a treasure for the people of all the neighborhoods. The Vera Davis McClendon Center, at 610 California St., is the new heartbeat of our community.

Hardly a day goes by without multiple meetings of various organizations, self-help groups and training programs. It also houses several community organization including the Latino Resource Organization, Venice Arts, Project Heavy West, L.A. Dept. of Aging, Tech Team (computer training), Easter Seals (developmentally disabled program), Community Technology Discovery Center (computer/internet access for the public). Overseeing and cheering on all this activity is the Center’s Director, Cliff McClain, who talked with the Beachhead’s Jeff Hirsch this month:

Jeff: How long have you been the manager of the Vera Davis McClendon Youth and Family Center?

Cliff: Since about October of 2001.

Jeff: Why did you come here?

Cliff: There was a need for an interim manager. I had experience in other situations like this.

Jeff: What programs does the center have?

Cliff: There are a number of programs here. The Latino Resource Organization, Project Heavy West having to do with gang intervention and substance abuse; there are parenting classes, counseling programs; LA Bridges (which is a youth and crime reduction program).

There is a tech team which includes a computer learning center; there is a music class by computer program; there is a computer repair and computer building program; there is an Arts program, which includes dance classes such as hip-hop and ballet; there are also photography and photo-journalism classes; there are painting and drawing and computer animation classes.

There is a program for senior citizens - they visited old town in San Diego recently and they tour different locales. We have a career planning center. There is a Department of Aging representative here.

There is a program to support the care-givers of seniors here at the center. There is a community Technology Discovery Center. We have 10 state-of-the-art computers. We have a scanner, fax, color copier and printer for use by anyone in the community. Incidentally, some of the kids got a grant to go to South Africa for a conference on racism in August of 2001.

We have a men’s AA program every Wednesday night at 7 PM. On Tuesday nights, we have an NA program. On Monday nights we have a Big Book (AA study program).

Jeff: OK, this is a tremendous community resource. I just signed up a few days ago for beginning computers, coincidentally.

Cliff: Its good to get people introduced to the world of computers.

Jeff: Tell me about Vera Davis.

Cliff: I met her in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. I was sent to Oakwood to be the interim Director of the Neighborhood Adult Participation Project (NAPP), which was a community empowerment program. I met Vera and she became my assistant. Vera knew how to get things done. She could raise hell but she knew how to maintain relationships. She hung in there with you.

Jeff: What were Vera’s accomplishments? How did the building get named after her?

Cliff: She knew how to get money for the community. She touched a lot of lives. She was an intense person who really cared a lot about people, which made her as effective as she was. Instead of giving a fish to a needy person, she would teach that person how to fish.

Jeff: Could you expand on that?

Cliff: There’s an old Black Panther saying, “You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.” Vera Davis was a part of the solution.

Jeff: What do you see as the major problems of our society as they impact Venice?

Cliff: Affordable housing. Either we’ll resolve that problem or just get gentrified and be like the northern end of the Marina. We also need to find positive and meaningful activities for our youth. The YMCA is $300 a year, too expensive for most low-income kids. We need easy access to affordable programs for low-income kids.

Jeff: Do you think the center could be expanded and what programs in addition to what exists now would you like to see?

Cliff: This building is an historic site. The space is limited here. I’m trying to put a sun room on the lawn to get more space. If we could, we would like to buy out the Electric Lodge (a building immediately to the south of this center) for our programs to have more space. In other words, we need more physical space.

Jeff: What is your relationship to the Oakwood Recreation Center right up the street?

Cliff: They send me kids. I send them kids as the needs arise.

Jeff: What do you see as the future for the Center?

Cliff: I see us as a catalyst for the proper growth and development of kids, teenagers and adults in the Venice area.

Jeff: Anything else you would like to say?

Cliff: I love this place! If I could afford it, I would live here.

Lynn Warshafsky and Giselle MacFarland of Venice Arts Mecca, located at the Vera Davis Center are looking for volunteer artists, particularly in photography and digital arts. Call them at (310) 578-1745.

Posted: Thu - August 1, 2002 at 05:30 PM