Huge $2 million grant for MACSA

– For Olivia Soza Mendiola and Maria Elena De La Garza, the
third time really is a charm, a more than $2-million one.
GILROY – For Olivia Soza Mendiola and Maria Elena De La Garza, the third time really is a charm, a more than $2-million one.

Mexican-American Community Services Agency directors announced late last week that Gilroy won a $2.08-million grant from the state’s Safe Neighborhood Parks Act of 2000. The money will be used to design and construct a new youth center on open space at South Valley Middle School off of Murray Avenue on the town’s east side.

It was the group’s third effort in 10 years to garner funding to construct a 25,000 square-foot facility complete with a gymnasium, child development center, library and computer lab, among other things. The facility would resemble a youth center in east San Jose successfully opened in 1995 and could be used to support South Valley Middle School operations.

“Perseverance has won out here,” Mendiola said Friday. “It’s difficult pleading your case to the state when you’re competing with large cities like Los Angeles and San Jose. It’s a real challenge, so we’re very happy.”

“You have to understand how huge this is. I’m so excited,” said De La Garza. “I’ve been here 13 years. My boss and I started M.A.C.S.A. in a closet in the library at Gilroy High School. We’ve had this vision since then.”

The vision is for M.A.C.S.A. to build and own the new facility, but rent the land – most likely for a nominal fee – from the Gilroy Unified School District.

“This will allow M.A.C.S.A. to expand and improve everything we’re doing now. This facility will be state-of-the-art.” Mendiola, a former longtime Gilroyan, said.

Mendiola said the grant did fall short of the $2.975 million requested by her group. She said M.A.C.S.A. will now push forward with efforts to raise another $1 million to provide the facilities and services it envisions.

Currently, M.A.C.S.A. services, which range from after school programs to adult education classes, are housed at three sites around town – behind South Valley Middle School, in San Ysidro Park and at the Gilroy Youth Center on Railroad and Fifth streets.

El Portal Leadership Academy, the Gilroy Unified’s charter high school in its second year, is housed in a building behind South Valley on the 200 block of Swanston Lane.It would likely move out and be housed in the new facility if the school district chooses to continue that school’s charter.

De La Garza said M.A.C.S.A. officials will brainstorm with city and school district officials, as well as the community, over the next couple of weeks. They will discuss future housing and services possibilities, among other topics. De La Garza stressed that the new facility will fall in line with the city’s efforts to revitalize the downtown area.

“The hugest need is on the east side. This grant addresses that,” De La Garza said.

“Everything is still up in the air,” De La Garza continued. “We’re a community service organization so our decisions will be made based on what the community of Gilroy needs and wants.”

Gilroy Recreational Services Manager John Garcia shares M.A.C.S.A.’s enthusiasm. He said if M.A.C.S.A consolidates all or most of its services into the new site, the move would open up space at the park and the center on Railroad.

“We’re cramped now,” Garcia said.

Garcia said the city would likely expand the recreation programs it offers now, which include boxing leagues, computer courses and craft workshops.

“We’d offer whatever we could,” Garcia said.

Mendiola did not have a firm timeline for construction on the new youth center. She called it “a long process” and estimated it would take nearly three years between receiving the grant and completion of the site.