More than $5,000 of office and recreation equipment purchased with city funds was stolen from the Garfield Square Park clubhouse located at Harrison and 26th Streets, according to police.
The stolen items—which include a computer, television set, video game console, games and DVDs—belonged to Rec Connect, a city-wide after-school program funded by the Department of Children, Youth and their Families and staffed in the Mission District by Mission Neighborhood Centers.
According to Gloria Romero, youth services director at Mission Neighborhood Centers, Rec Connect staff discovered the equipment missing on September 8. According to police records, the equipment had been stored in an unlocked room in the Garfield Square clubhouse since the program closed on June 30. It stayed there while the new Rec Connect site at Jose Coronado clubhouse, on 21st and Folsom Streets, was being prepared to open.
The program’s relocation was part of a Recreation and Parks Department restructuring plan to keep more of its facilities open after deep budget cuts last spring. But the theft isn’t the only consequence of the three-year-old program’s departure from Garfield Square.
While the park’s soccer fields draw hundreds of youth to Recreation and Parks and private league games, the after-school program that brought tutoring, mentoring, computer, cooking and dance classes to the neighborhood is gone.
“I think that at Garfield Square—there’s a high need for services,” said Gloria Romero. “I don’t think there are enough services for that area—it was definitely not our choice to leave,” she said.
Jose Guzmán, the only full-time recreation director at Garfield Square Park, said he doesn’t know what had happened to the stolen equipment. “I only heard that a computer went missing and that they were looking,” said Guzmán. “They didn’t tell us that anything else went missing.”
No arrests have been made and none of the items have been recovered, according to police. While thefts at public Recreation and Parks facilities are “fairly common,” according to spokesperon Lisa Seitz Gruwell, the amount stolen at Garfield Square is “on the higher side of the scale.”
The only piece of Rec Connect equipment left at Garfield Square after the relocation, according to Romero, was a portable basketball hoop. There was already a basketball court at Jose Coronado.
Rec Connect staff did their best to transition the program out of the community responsibly, said Romero. At the time it left, it drew between 20 and 30 kids a day according to Artina Lim, DCYF senior program officer.
The staff provided resources about existing services in the neighborhood, like the Bernal Dwellings Family Resource Center run by Mission Neighborhood Centers across the street from Garfield Square. The center has kept its doors open an extra two hours a day to provide an after-school option in the immediate area.
But with limited funds it’s not easy, said Ginale Harris, one of two full-time employees at the center, which is adjacent to the Bernal Dwellings Public Housing development.
“It seems like the city doesn’t care about the kids over here,” she said plainly.
Though the new Jose Coronado RecConnect site is only five blocks away, and draws about 20 participants a day, youth from Bernal Dwellings don’t venture there, said Portia Goree, who volunteered at Garfield Rec Connect six months prior to joining the team at Jose Coronado in September.
“I doubt they’ll come up here,” she said in an interview in late October. “There are neighborhood affiliations that make it difficult.”
“It’s too dangerous,” said Harris, for youth from Bernal Dwellings to travel outside the immediate neighborhood—they risk being harassed or beaten up if they go too far beyond their turf.
Few of the youth that attended Rec Connect programs at Garfield Square continue to visit the park, said Scott Golde, a recreation director who since May has led afternoon soccer classes at the park.
“They have been disenfranchised,” he said, busy pumping soccer balls for the dozen or so seven-year-olds waiting for him on the soccer fields.
“These were mostly African American kids that didn’t participate, that we couldn’t engage,” said Golde.
Former Garfield Square Rec Connect co-leader Sean Joyce “was the liaison that brought these kids here,” said Golde. “That was the beginning of something good that could’ve been a lot better.”
Golde has reached out to Harris to see about the center using one of the activity rooms that’s been empty since summer.
“I’d really like to see this room working again,” he said, looking at an abandoned foosball table in the clubhouse’s large, light-filled activity room before heading out to the field.