The wafting smoke from the barbecue was undeniably sweet.
But to Michael Harper, 30, the atmosphere was something sweeter.
“To see people out here, coming together to celebrate something beautiful in our community, in the Iron Triangle: this is a great thing,” Harper said. “I’ve been in this neighborhood a long time and I’ve seen worse times. This reminds me that God is good.”
Harper was one of more than 100 residents who turned out Saturday to see the newly-remodeled L.I.F.E. Center at the corner of Second Street and MacDonald Avenue, in the heart of the city’s Iron Triangle neighborhood.
The L.I.F.E. Center is a community jewel, said pastor Sydney Keys, who also serves as director of the center. The two-story complex combines a church worship hall, computer labs, child care and fitness centers and other recreational and educational amenities.
Keys said the Feb. 14 shooting inside a local church, which prompted several peace rallies and drew national attention, influenced his decision to hold the Saturday community gathering. Several smaller community festivals went on throughout the city Saturday.
“This place is open seven days a week, Monday through Sunday, because that’s what the people need,” Keys said. “The timing is right for us to play a greater role in our community.”
L.I.F.E. stands for Love Involvement Family and Education, Keys said.
The L.I.F.E. center is one of the few places in the area that is licensed by the county to care for infants, a capability that is in particular need in the immediate community, one of the poorest in the Bay Area. The center also has a computer lab, with several high-speed Internet terminals that residents can use for research and employment searches.
The event drew local dignitaries, including Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Councilmen Tom Butt and Nat Bates, and council candidate Corky Booze.
Keys’ wife, Patrice, who is the center’s co-director, gave McLaughlin a tour of their newly-renovated facility.
“These kinds of services should be provided to everyone,” McLaughlin told Keys while being shown the childcare center. “It’s really wonderful that the church is picking this up and providing this, so thank you so much.”
Later, McLaughlin and others manned a free giveaway table, where the L.I.F.E. center handed out a cache of donated shoes and clothing. Dozens of locals lined up for the goods.
Booze said the infant care capability that the center offers is vital to the health of community.
“Single parents right here in the Iron Triangle have a resource where they can safely leave their young children while they go to work,” Booze said. “We can’t say enough how much that is appreciated.”