Children play soccer at Summer NIght Lights in Ramona Gardens. Photo by Antonio Mejias
Children play soccer at Summer Night Lights in Ramona Gardens. Photo by Antonio Mejias

As summer winds down, so does the Summer Night Lights program at the Ramona Gardens Recreation Center.

Since late June, the program run by the Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) with support from the Los Angeles Police Department and other agencies has held open 32 city parks through 11:00 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, creating a safe place for families to enjoy sports, games, art classes and other activities in neighborhoods impacted by violence.

The violence reduction program was started in 2007 by then Mayor Antonio Villarraigosa and has continued to be funded and expanded since then. Ramona Gardens has participated in Summer Night Lights for the last five years.

For the rest of the summer, through Sept. 5, the Summer Night Lights program will continue on Fridays and Saturdays only starting at 7:00 p.m.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for kids to come and participate,” said David Ballentine, 57, a resident of Ramona Gardens since 1964 and father of a 12-year-old who joined in on a basketball game on a recent Wednesday night.

Ballentine, who coaches at the Rec Center, says Summer Night Lights provides a space for Ramona Gardens residents of all backgrounds to get to know each other.

As basketballs bounced on the inside court, a game of softball was being played on the outside field while several adults experimented with watercolors as part of an art class. A playground was packed with parents and preschoolers. Hot dogs were being grilled at the edge of the field while hip-hop played in a boom box.

“It brings a good sense of community,” said Phillip González, a Los Angeles Parks and Recreation employee who runs the Ramona Gardens Rec Center. “You see friends talking in the hallways.”

González said Wednesdays and Thursdays ”“when a zumba class is offered”“ have been the most popular nights for the program this year. There was a spike in interest in soccer this year, with the program starting right after the World Cup. He said that with the beginning of the school year approaching, there has been a decline in attendance, although some kids still come out every day.

“Some kids are here at 2:00 p.m. when I get here and stay until I leave at 11:00a p.m.,” said González. “What else would they be doing?”

González said that another benefit of SNL is that it has provided summer employment for Ramona Gardens youth.

During a recent interview with Boyle Heights Beat, Councilman José Huizar said SNL has been successful in deterring gang activity in the neighborhood.
“We have seen great success,” Huizar said. “Crime statistics around the parks where we have this program have gone down significantly and this shows that these types of programs work.”

Ipolani Duvauchelle, one of two GRYD coordinators at Ramona Gardens, says that up to 400 meals are served to nearly 250 SNL participants every night.

The free food, says resident Ballentine, is an important incentive.

“Some of these families may not have dinner, if it wasn’t for Summer Night Lights,” he says. “I know that for a fact.”

Other SNL locations nearby:
Ramon Garcia Recreation Center – 1016 S. Fresno St., Los Angeles, CA 90023
Costello Recreation Center – 3141 E. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90023
El Sereno Recreation Center – 4721 Klamath St., Los Angeles, CA 90032

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