Calvary Assembly of God has opened its doors to kids from across Merced to give them a safe and fun place to spend Friday nights. It's all part of an effort to prevent another tragedy like the one that took the life of a 14 year old boy."
The church sits just a half mile from the spot where one of its young members was gunned down July 20. Merced police believe gang members shot Isaiah Romero multiple times.
"Our church, when he passed away, the day we found out we knew that things were going to change here," church youth leader Demetria Claunch said.
Demetria Claunch and her sister started thinking of ways to protect other kids in the city, and just days after the tragedy they launched The Isaiah Project. The supervised program runs from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays and offers video games, ping pong, air hockey, basketball, volleyball, and much more. The kids also get free food, and there are plans for a computer lab with free tutoring.
Organizers say so far the turnout has been amazing - more than 120 kids filled the facility last Friday.
"I think there's a positive culture going on here. Kids are finally finding somewhere to hang out, socialize, get to know each other," volunteer Kevin McClain said.
McClain grew up in the area and says he saw many teens turn to drugs and gangs as a way to find acceptance. He was heartbroken after losing Isaiah to street violence, but says he's thankful this project may protect other young people.
"I feel honored to share his name and legacy. He was very caring, he always cared about other people, so just to know I'm part of his calling is pretty great," McClain said.
Organizers are now hoping even more kids will come to this safe haven and more community members will contribute to the cause.
The doors will stay open until 8 p.m. Friday night, but organizers are hoping to extend the hours and add more days as the project moves forward.