'A positive place'

Published: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2005 at 6:50 p.m.
Ms. Leesha, Ms. Leesha, Ms. Leesha!" That is what you hear when you enter the clubhouse at Majestic Oaks Apartments.
The Ms. Leesha they're calling is Leesha London, who provides what she calls community outreach for children in the Majestic Oaks and Tower Oaks subdivisions and refers to as "an alternative to roaming the streets." London works for the Alachua County Sheriff's Office as a program specialist. She begins her day at about noon and usually wraps up her shift at about 10 p.m.
"Everything I do before the kids arrive is in preparation for them arriving," London said as she spoke over the voices of about 30 children. This preparation could include calling parents, purchasing items needed for the day or planning activities.
Standing at a little over 5 feet, she commands respect from these children from the time they begin at 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. when they leave.
On this Monday afternoon, the air conditioning is out, and she cautions children not to use all the computers in the room because the power short-circuits.
She is in good spirits, despite the environment.
London listens intently as 6-year-old Tyrese Marehem asks why the game he likes to play isn't available.
"Play Rollercoaster; you like that one," she suggests.
Tyrese agrees and signs out the video game.
Every day, London and her assistant Samantha Goldstein lead the group through activities such as outdoor sports, tutoring, arts and crafts, dance and free play.
During free play, children can use computers, play board and video games, watch movies or listen to music.
On occasion, London has "Girls Club," where she takes female members of her group to enjoy activities such as cooking.
"Many people consider the type of work that I do baby-sitting. I consider counseling and mentoring youth to be long-term crime prevention," London said. "I believe this helps reduce juvenile delinquency. It also builds a good relationship with the community. We are redirecting these kids' energy."
London said this program is a help to mothers who are afraid to let their children out of the house to play because they're afraid they would get into fights and there would be other - angry - mothers at their doorsteps.
"For some of these parents, the programs in Tower Oaks and Majestic Oaks provide a positive place where their children could be safe," London said. "I believe that as a result of these types of programs, we have less crime among young men and fewer girls wandering neighborhood streets," she added.
London serves about 115 children in both apartment complexes, averaging about 20 to 25 children, ages 6 and up, Monday through Thursday.
London believes the children learn character through patience, self-control and tolerance; they do this through tasks such as sharing turns on video game equipment and playing well with others.
London started her education in broadcast journalism and said it was then "put upon her heart" to do this outreach with children, though she always thought it would be through a church.
She began working with children in the Phoenix Subdivision in 1997 and moved to Tower Oaks in September 2002. The Alachua County Sheriff's office began an outreach project in Majestic Oaks the following year. Now Tower Oaks and Majestic Oaks are run as a joint program because of their close proximity, and the YMCA Backyard Recreation program provides transportation for children to attend field trips and equipment for outdoor activities.
"My philosophy is if they're inside taking part in things they enjoy and things that are positive, we can provide positive things in their lives.
"I want to provide a place where they can come and have fun. I have things available they like to do. I feel this program is an opportunity to shape the future. I have no kids of my own, so they are like my own," London said.
In the future, London said, she would like to see the program offer more activities such as drama and team sports. She said she would also like to see volunteers from the community assist with activities.
For more information, call London at 332-3122.

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