What was once an inner-city sanctuary for South Park residents of all walks of life now stands on the precipice of closure if the city does not act.
The L.L. Melton Family Life Center, formerly the L.L. Melton YMCA, is struggling to keep the doors open, prompting a letter to the city requesting help paying what amounts to $3,000 in monthly utilities to stay open.
City council members argued vehemently for and against keeping the city-owned facility’s current tenant, Jehovah Jireh, during their work session Tuesday, Jan. 8.
In 2010, the Jehovah Jireh Village Community Development Center Inc. — a nonprofit arm of Antioch Baptist Church — signed a lease agreement with the city of Beaumont to pay a monthly rent of $150 after the YMCA scuttled its involvement in the facility.
To keep the doors open, current director Cheryll Guidry quickly organized her church and community to help her start a community center in the South Park neighborhood, offering exercise classes and free counseling. The city was to cover all major maintenance and utilities with the understanding that the facility would remain open to the general public.
Guidry said she didn’t expect her leadership on the issue would put her at the forefront of the current debate to keep the facility open.
“The plan when we got the doors back open wasn’t for me to do it. I was just volunteering when it was the Y, so I knew a lot of the history and what worked and didn’t work, so I naturally slid right in,” she said. “But that wasn’t the plan all along. I just saw the need and stepped up.”
The lease agreement was amended in 2011 to make utilities the responsibility of Jehovah Jireh, but since then Jehovah Jireh has been unable to provide enough revenue to keep up with its expenses, Guidry said.
“During our summer months, we do really well,” she said. “This summer we had quite a few more expenses than normal, so the money that usually takes us through to the end of the year wasn’t there.”
The shortfall came in part from the loss of some Zumba classes, which have since come back, and extra summer camp expenses for the center’s popular summer camp programs.
To remedy the problem, City Manager Kyle Hayes told council members Tuesday, Jan 8, the city could free up as much as $2,500 per month of leftover federal money to help the facility cover utilities.
“When the Melton YMCA closed down and the YMCA of Beaumont was going through that bankruptcy — the city owns it — Reverend Adolf (Antioch senior pastor) and Jehovah Jireh stepped forward and kept the facility open, working together,” Hayes said. “So when Councilman Smith and Councilman Samuel asked what options were available, we talked and said, ‘Well we’ll have a work session with the full council.’”
In an e-mail, Hayes said the administration will present another year’s lease to Jehovah Jireh at next week’s Jan 15 council meeting, adding the city had very few options when YMCA left the building in 2010 during it’s bankruptcy.
“Alternatives for the city at that time were to let the building remain vacant, or to begin operating a recreation facility out of the building at a cost of between $700,000 and $800,000 per year,” Hayes said.
At least one council member, Mike Getz, wasn’t happy about the proposal to maintain city subsidies for the center, citing documents from city staff that he said showed the city spent at least $120,000 in the last two years on maintaining the facility.
Getz said at least nine other churches in the area offer the same services as Jehovah Jireh’s Melton Center and the city should not be in the business of subsidizing them.
“What needs are currently being unmet by any of the churches that serve that community that would justify us keeping this facility open?” Getz inquired at the council meeting.
Council members Audwin Samuel and Jamie Smith quickly answered Getz’s question.
“It’s still currently being used for sports, classes; there’s counseling that’s taking place for kids and adults, different types of activities,” said Jamie Smith. “It’s a real asset to the community; they’re just having some trouble sustaining revenue.”
Getz was not moved by others on council who claimed the facility should remain city-owned, and shifted his attention to Kyle Hayes in reference to at least $20,000 the facility never paid for water and sewer as agreed upon in its 2011 lease.
Getz said membership at the facility has fallen dramatically and it should be sold to the highest bidder regardless of federal money that would need to be repaid if Beaumont failed to maintain the facility as a community center.
“If there were that many people, we wouldn’t be struggling financially in the manner that we are. That’s the bottom line,” he said. “They’re not making it financially. They can’t do it. That’s what they’re saying in their letter.”
Currently the facility charges $5 for a single use, $20 per month for members and $30 a month for a family of four, Guidry said.
“I don’t enable. If you come in that door to use the facility, you’re going to pay either the $5 a day to use it, or the $20 a month,” she said. “And people have found the money. Let’s celebrate that. Let’s celebrate the fact that, for almost three years, we’ve been able to keep it afloat and going, providing many of the activities that the Y was doing. And they had a full staff and budget.”
Although Guidry does receive a stipend from Antioch Baptist Church, she said her job is a 24/7 undertaking as her staff are all still volunteers.
“Instead of people saying, ‘Wow, they’ve been able to do so much with nothing,’ they’re saying, ‘Oh they couldn’t do it. See? It failed. It flopped,’” she said “We need volunteers. We need expertise.”
To combat the shortfall in membership, Guidry is offering a broader array of Zumba and counseling services. She said one of her Zumba classes includes instruction for those in a wheelchair.
“Zumba, you oughta see the room,” Guidry said. “Filled with every shade of everything. All ages, all walks of life.”
Getz said he would be for a public/private partnership in selling the facility, but ultimately the city should rid itself of the burden if no one can afford to pay for membership.
“You might want to consider selling it to Antioch to allow them to expand their ministry,” Getz said. “They may have an interest in it. And it might be better to allow something like that to occur than to allow the city to continue to be involved in it.”
Jamie Smith and others were unmoved.
“So, if everyone had a nice paying middle class job and everybody could go in there and pay whatever they need to pay, sure it would be,” Smith said. “But they’re not serving just that one select group of people. They’re serving the whole community. And if you haven’t opened your eyes, the whole community is struggling.”