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Zachery Ramos, left, and Alberto Escobedo are planning to open a youth center in downtown Gustine. Not pictured is Manuel Hernandez, who is also involved in the project.

GUSTINE - A local school board member and two friends are planning to develop a downtown youth center in Gustine.

Zachery Ramos, a 2017 Gustine High graduate and founder of the Gustine Traveling Library who was recently elected to the Gustine Unified School District Board of Trustees, is spearheading the project with Alberto Escobedo and Manuel Hernandez.

Their project is subject to city approval.

Ramos told Mattos Newspapers last week that he has submitted paperwork to the city for necessary approvals, and is in the process of obtaining a fictitious business name from the county.

City Manager Doug Dunford said that the city will review details of the proposal to determine if zoning would allow the center to open with a basic business license issuance, or if more extensive approvals such as a conditional use permit or a variance would be required.

Ramos said he has been pursuing the youth center project for about two years, citing a community need for a safe, supervised space for teens to congregate and to provide tutoring services for students of all ages.

“This all came about from wanting to help the youth of our town,” Ramos explained. “It will be a safe area for kids to hang out and get help with their school work. It will also have a gaming hub, and we will be doing a lot of volunteer work to help out the community as well.”

Ramos said a location has been secured at 417 Fifth Street, and renovations have begun. Once the interior is renovated, he said, the group will begin furnishing the center and equipping it with whiteboards, televisions and more.

The center will have a small library, as well as an arts area.

“Before we started purchasing items we did focus groups with different ages to ask what they would like to see in town, and what they would like to see in a youth center,” Ramos commented. “We told them some of the ideas that were on the table; they told us what they were thinking. They were very enthusiastic.”

Ramos said tutoring will be an important element of the center.

He said that, while many youth center activities and amenities will largely be geared to middle school and high school students, tutoring will be available for younger pupils as well. Ramos explained that high school students will be recruited as tutors. They will earn community service hours for their tutoring, he said, and will also have access to extended time at the center in appreciation of their contributions.

Ramos said the goal is to have the youth center ready to open when the pandemic eases. Hours are still under discussion, he explained, but the plan is to have the center open for both after-school and weekend hours.

Adult supervision will be present at all times, he told Mattos Newspapers.

“We are looking at all three of our work schedules,” explained Ramos, who is employed at a Tracy logistics center.

Ramos said the trio is currently funding the project out of their own pockets, but that community support will be sought to sustain the center when it is established. His school board stipend will go directly to the project, Ramos noted.

Ramos said a five-member board of directors has been established, and that the organization is in the process of registering as a non-profit.

Feedback from youth and parents alike has been positive, he remarked.

“I’m looking forward to getting this going. I’m excited, and I’m happy to see the excitement of the youth,” Ramos commented. “We will have a safe space for kids to hang out, to get the (tutoring) help they need and to get them (involved in) their community.”

For more information about the youth center project, call Ramos at 585-8233.