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North Columbia residents working to bring more after school programs for children

A makeshift basketball court sits at the end of Edenton Boulevard in north Columbia. It’s one of the few community spaces in the north part of the city for children to gather.

“I was very disturbed about our children having no type of activities, no positive influence, and only having each other to gather from, but no leadership,” said Sophia Smith, who has lived in the north Columbia area for about a year and a half.

North Columbia is one of the city’s strategic plan neighborhoods. It was identified as one of the areas that hasn’t received as much investment as other parts of the city in the past.

Over the past few months, the city has organized neighborhood meetings for each of its three strategic plan neighborhoods for residents to discuss what improvements they would like to see made to where they live.

For north Columbia residents, their main priority was creating a youth or recreational center.

“All you have to do is drive down the street and you can see the excitement and the energy of the children running through the neighborhood, riding their bicycles and playing basketball,” said Shawna Neuner, a lifelong north Columbia resident.

Residents met Thursday night at Derby Ridge Elementary to talk about how they could achieve their main goal. It was the first neighborhood meeting that was run by residents who have decided to step into leadership roles.

“The power of community organizing with the power and resources of a city government, I don’t know if anyone’s ever done that before and it’s impressive,” said council member Michael Trapp, who represents parts of north Columbia.

Residents invited guest speakers from community resources with experience in youth programs to get ideas about how to reach their youth center goal. One speaker included the founder of a youth after school program in Kirksville.

“Being able to have a resource center, having people to come volunteer, being a positive role model for these children would just be a great thing,” Smith said. “We need positive role models for our children in our neighborhoods.”

“I think this is the biggest movement I’ve seen like this of people trying to pull together,” Neuner said. “And not just one particular block where you get to know your immediate neighbors, but really pulling together for the greater sense of community.”

After Thursday’s meeting, residents are looking into planning a trip to Kirksville to see how the after school program works. Residents will met again on May 9 with more tentative meetings planned for the months to come.

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