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Lakers and NBA Cares Dedicate New Play & Learn Center for Salvation Army

By Eric Richardson
Published: Saturday, June 05, 2010, at 03:15PM
Salvation Army / NBA Cares Eric Richardson [Flickr]

Laker guard Derek Fisher reads with students at the new NBA Cares Learn & Play Center at the Salvation Army Los Angeles Red Shield Youth & Community Center.

just a half mile from Staples Center, the Salvation Army Los Angeles Red Shield Youth & Community Center occupies a world very different than the glitz and flashing lights of the L.A. Live complex. The Pico Union neighborhood it has served since 1949 had a median yearly household income of just under $17,000 according to the 2000 Census.

The now 10-year-old arena still had a strong effect on the nearby neighborhood.

"Not until 1999 when they built the Staples Center did we start to see a real change," recalled Irene Lewis, the youth center's Executive Director since 1981. "You didn't hear the gunfire at night. Of course there were still issues with gangs and drugs, but it really brought jobs and opportunity."

It also brought new partnerships between the Salvation Army and companies like AEG and the Lakers.

That relationship took another step on Friday, as NBA Commissioner David Stern was joined by representatives from the league and the Lakers in opening a new NBA Cares Learn & Play Center at the youth center, which is located on 11th, three blocks west of the 110 freeway. The $100,000 project, sponsored by HP and State Farm, provided new computers, furniture, books and a Laker-colored purple and gold paint scheme.

The project is part of an NBA program that to date has opened 485 similar centers around the country, including one each year during the NBA All-Star Game and one in the home town of each team playing in the Finals.

"It's easy enough to say -- and we believe it -- that you can do anything you want to do," Stern told those gathered for the event. "But it's up to us ... to give these kids the tools that they need to win. It's one thing to be in the game, but we want them to win."

The Lakers, currently up 1-0 against the Boston Celtics in the Finals, drew special praise from Stern. "Nobody has done it like the Lakers," the Commissioner said, "with their 15 centers, with their 24 courts, with their involvement in the community. They are second to none in the NBA."

Guards Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic, forward Josh Powell and Executive V.P. Jeanie Buss participated in the event, which took place soon after the team had finished a practice session at Staples Center.

Downtown residents have an open invitation to come check out the youth center's facilities and get involved with its programs, said Lewis. "We would love to have them come and participate," she told blogdowntown. "It's a great place. We have an indoor swimming pool, soccer field, ballet studio... We have wonderful opportunities for people to come and give back and we welcome them with open arms."


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