Renovations are underway to transform a community-centered space on the Fort Yuma-Quechan Reservation and restore a sense of hope on this side of COVID-19.

On the exterior, the Quechan Community Center, located at 604 Picacho Road in Winterhaven, dons a fresh coat of paint to welcome tribal youth participating in parks and recreation programs this summer. The cosmetic enhancements continue inside, where the gymnasium is equipped with LED lighting, a new scoreboard courtesy of Yuma Catholic High School, freshly painted walls and refinished flooring.

According to tribal council member Faron Owl, the renovations are expected to be completed by the end of May. Paired with essential repairs at the pool adjacent to the community center and the baseball field sprawling behind them both, the finished project will be the fruition of a roughly $100,000 investment for the tribe, Owl said.

“It’s nice to see the tribe say, ‘We’re going to invest in our youth,’” Owl said. “We’re developing programs for the summer so that they’re active, and the good thing about it is everything’s updated – they’ll be playing in the nicest facility, on the nicest floor.”

Thanks to the generosity of the Quechan and Yuma communities, the tribe managed to cut about $25,000 off the original estimate, Owl added.

When the cost of having the gym lighting installed by a contractor was deemed too expensive, staff from the Quechan Casino volunteered their time; the tribe’s utility company pitched in to remove the old dugouts and backstop from the baseball field, which were unstable and, according to Owl, just a few wind gusts away from collapsing altogether; meanwhile, the grounds department assisted with sprinkler installations.

New dugouts will be built to replace those that were demolished and by June, the field should be ready to host both baseball and softball games.

“When we first started doing this, we needed help; we couldn’t do everything on our own,” Owl said. “It’s 100% better than it was before. It’s a combination of quite a few people putting their time and efforts into (the project) knowing it’s going to affect our youth. And when it’s something that’s really nice, it’s going to last years.”

The project also involved local growers, namely Top Flavor Farms and Mellon Farms, who helped with disking and laser leveling the outfield and infield, which were “totally uneven” and rife with dips and rocks, Owl recalled.

“They donated their time,” Owl said. “I know they have crops to tend to, but to come out here for days at a time – this is the way it’s supposed to be. People lending their time and helping out. They want to contribute to the community because they want to contribute to something that’s positive, and they know they have the tools that can help. When they bring that big tractor and spend three days out here, you’re talking about the person that’s driving it, the gas, the equipment itself – and that’s all donated. How can you thank them enough for their efforts to do that?”

According to Owl, masking and stay-at-home directives remain in place on the reservation, though the tribal council is weighing the possibility of easing some of the restrictions while continuing to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

With the upgrades to the the facility, swimming pool and now-manicured field, Owl is optimistic that the community center will serve as more than a place for youth to recreate, become better athletes or simply “learn and have fun” – he sees it as a communal space for the tribe to find healing and deepened camaraderie following the blows dealt by the pandemic.

“We need that; I think every community needs that,” Owl said. “When you think about the pandemic you think about how it affects a small community, and ours is a small community in how everybody’s related. If somebody passes, that’s your relative. It’s completely different from Yuma; in Yuma people are more scattered, it’s a city. But out here, once you have tragic things like that happen, it takes a toll on everybody, from the young people all the way to our elders. What’s the healing point? How do we heal, how do we take care of ourselves and our relatives? It’s another whole, complete story – and this facility may be an answer.”

The community center is in need of lifeguards and volunteer coaches to staff its summer programs, Owl noted. Interested individuals are encouraged to contact Quechan Parks and Recreation at 760-572-1242.

“When I come out here in June or July, when the lights are on and somebody’s playing out here on the field, or a bunch of kids are swimming or they’re playing basketball – that’s the start of accomplishing our goal,” Owl said. “It encompasses everything for our tribe – the whole community could be out here one night.”

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