Children find safe haven at Village Center

Published 8:40 am Tuesday, May 25, 2010

WOODLAND — Something special is happening here.

The sounds of pencils being sharpened, excited laughs and inquiring minds of young people fill the former Woodland Town Hall. These are the sounds of Village in Action Community Center, an initiative in its infancy.

On this night more than a dozen children from Woodland and the surrounding areas gather in a room with one common goal: to ace their end of grade (EOG) tests.

Third grade teacher Gonzalo Pitpit from Willis Hare Elementary School is volunteering his time to work with the children on school subjects along with former school teacher Barbara Gosney and her husband, Bob.

Monday through Friday for an hour and a half, a group of 3rd and 4th grade students answer questions on worksheets, work together in groups and participate in instructional games. The subjects are rotated from evening to evening between math and reading.

“I wish for these kids to be very successful,” said Pitpit. “They just need extra time to pass their EOGs.”

The whole scenario began in April when Pitpit contacted Woodland Police Chief Jesse Stevens. Previously, Pitpit, who is in his fourth year at Willis Hare Elementary, spoke to his school’s principal, Barbara Stephenson, about getting some type of tutoring program for his students up and running.

After catching wind about Village in Action, Pitpit, with Chief Stevens’ help, solidified the tutoring idea.

These tutoring sessions are only a part of the vision that is the Village in Action Community Center spearheaded by Chief Stevens.

“Our objective for the community as a whole is to create an active, loving and growing community,” he said.

Stevens said the idea for the community center began with just a few kids from the area; sitting down with them to work on homework and then playing basketball.

“I simply saw a need to start with kids and give them something to do,” he said.

That effort has now grown into something with a more tangible sustainability. Village in Action now has a building, the former Woodland Town Hall, and is headed by a six member board made of up teachers and parents.

At Pitpit’s tutoring session, Tami Whitaker, a Village in Action board member, brings her daughter Ayriana Robinson for additional help on her school work.

“I think this is good for Woodland,” she said. “We (the board) are working diligently to make sure it’s a big turnout. …We’re trying to get as many parents involved as we can.”

“Our focus is education first and recreation is a bonus,” said Stevens.

He added there are other community based programs planned for the facility. Future plans call for incorporating adult programs.

“We plan to grow it anyway we can,” he said.

Stevens also wants to see the facility’s programs go on the road, possibly in the form of taking the children on trips far from town limits.

“A lot of kids have never been outside of the area,” he said. “I’d like to change that.”

Meanwhile, the short term goal for the community center is planning summer activities and doing some repairs to the facility. Stevens said there are also plans to make Village in Action a non-profit.

When another officer is working, the police chief will often stop by the center to help out.

For Stevens, the benefits of having the facility will be two-fold. While the community center helps educate and offers a place for youngsters to go, the bond and trust between the community and law enforcement officers will grow, making Woodland a safer place.

Stevens said that relationship is important in dispelling those rumors and assumptions about law enforcement.

“We’re not only building a strong community, but making a connection with kids,” he said. “Having a rapport with kids is definitely making a difference.”