LPM Staff

Golden Gate’s campeones on and off the court

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Golden Gate Community Center was founded in 1936 by the Episcopal Church as the East Madison Street Settlement. Photo courtesy of Golden Gate Community Center

For the second year in a row, the Golden Gate Community Center will proudly house the Maryvale Adolescent Providers Partnership Basketball League’s blue and gold, four-foot-high, traveling basketball trophy. It is a proud moment for the youth, parents and staff alike, but it is also a proud moment for this special community. If you are familiar with the area, you can surely agree. 

Seventy-five years ago, nestled in a small-town Phoenix barrio, a thriving immigrant community utilized Golden Gate Community Center as its trusted touchstone. Incorporated in 1952, Golden Gate was a true community center, offering a well-baby clinic, sports activities, a home training course and a kindergarten. Displaced by the construction of Sky Harbor Airport in 1986, many residents of the old neighborhood traveled with Golden Gate to rebuild their community near its new and current location at 39th Avenue and McDowell Road. Sadly, most tight-knit communities, once disrupted, fail to hold together. The Golden Gate Community Center fought the odds and continues to do so 25 years later, a testament to its importance to the community. (LPM has published several feature stories on the historical significance of the Golden Gate barrio. Visit latinopm.com to read more on the topic.)

However, the area has its share of concerns. The geographic area served by Golden Gate is at risk in many ways. It is a high-crime area with many instances of gang-involved activity, domestic violence, drug and violent crimes. There are limited community sports and recreation facilities in the surrounding neighborhoods (only one of eight elementary schools has a gym). Without structured after-school program activities, youngsters are left vulnerable to recruitment by area gangs and street drug usage. 

A local resident of the area and a Golden Gate community center advisory board member, Ida Peña, said at the time of the center’s relocation, “I don’t have to be told where the need is – I live in the middle of it. I’ve seen the young people hanging out on the streets because there’s nothing to do, and know of old people who stay inside their homes because there’s no place for them to go.” That was 25 years ago. 

The team, front row from left to right: Danny Castro, Janae Gonzales, Lizbeth Castro and Edward Garcia. Back row from left to right: Coach Johnny Gonzales, Omar Gonzalez, Pablo Navarrette Jr., Mark Perez, Juan Nunez and Vicente Lujan. Photo courtesy of Golden Gate Community Center

With a mission to provide programs and services that improve the quality of life for children and families in west central Phoenix neighborhoods, Golden Gate has provided a safe learning environment for those surrounded by poverty, gangs and crime. Each year, the center offers thousands of children, teenagers, adults and seniors in the surrounding largely Hispanic neighborhoods affordable access to recreation and personal development activities, education classes and preventive health services. 

In 2004, a merger with Arizona’s Children Association allowed Golden Gate to develop significant partnerships with organizations across the city and county, which brought unique and innovative programs to the center. The philosophy at Golden Gate is one of partnering with community residents to determine their needs and design programs from the ground up. One of Golden Gate’s many partnerships is with the Maryvale Adolescent Providers Partnership (MAPPs) in an effort to discover gaps in the services offered to youth in the local community and work together to find solutions. It is through this partnership that the MAPPs Basketball League was created in 2009.

Today, dozens of youth fill the center each weekday when the Isaac District schools let out, serving youth ages 7 to 17 in an after-school program that offers structured sports, homework help, arts and crafts and more. Activities are scheduled from the last school bell until parents return home from work. 

The structured sports programs offered at Golden Gate are intended to be fun and educational; teamwork and sportsmanship are always a part of the team experience. With coaches that are both teachers and leaders, the program focuses on skill building, gaining self-confidence and learning to deal with disappointment and success while ensuring respect for other players and the referee. 

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