OAKLAND -- For years, the building on the McClymonds High School campus in West Oakland was used for nothing but the storage of old boxes and broken furniture. Once used by a JROTC program, it had fallen into disuse.

Today, sunlight streams through the skylights into what looks like a large, modern living room with cream and purple walls. Students helped design the McClymonds Youth and Family Center, which is outfitted with a dance room, a computer lab and a kitchen. Interior windows between the living area and the computer lab were another design element that came from the teenagers, to create a sense of safety and openness.

The center opened Thursday on the high school campus, next to a school-based health clinic. The project -- first imagined about 10 years ago -- came together with a federal grant, support from the offices of U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson and funding from a group of local agencies and organizations, including the San Francisco Foundation, the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency and the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth.

Debra Hall, 16, Khristan Antoine, 17, and Mayasa Bennett, 17, were among the students who worked on the center's design. They said they hoped the place would bring about peace and unity in a community that's faced with far too much violence.


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"When you're out there, there's a lot going on," Hall said, pointing outside. "When you come here, we're family. You're safe. You can express yourself here."

The center will be used for after-school tutoring and other programming run by Alternatives in Action, an Alameda-based youth development organization, and the McClymonds staff. It is located alongside a sound engineering studio and a school health center operated by Children's Hospital Oakland, exemplifying Oakland Schools Superintendent Tony Smith's goal of creating "full-service community schools" throughout the district.

McClymonds Principal Kevin Taylor said he hoped to find the funding to allow the center to open before school and on weekends. He said he envisioned parents using the center to look for jobs and take classes.

"We think of McClymonds as a hub of West Oakland," Taylor said. "Being a hub, we want to provide as many services as we can to make our families be successful."

Dr. Barbara Staggers, director of adolescent medicine at Children's Hospital Oakland, said such spaces have proved to help teenagers become more resilient in the face of challenges -- and to make choices that will allow them to lead longer, healthier lives.

"It's giving youth a safe place to go where they can be adolescents. They can test out who they want to become and what they want to do."

Staggers said communities of all kinds would benefit from investing in their teenagers in this way. "If we had more of these, I could retire. I could happily retire," she said.

Read Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog at www.IBAbuzz.com/education.