The GAINs model is definitely worth replicating

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Unfamiliar readers might have done a double take on reading a story in last Thursday's Union Democrat.

Headlined "Group seeks ideas from youth," the report told how Groveland Area Involved Neighbors are looking for ideas for features and activities at a youth center that won't open until next spring.

GAINs, which has already raised $10,000 for equipment and programs at the future Mary Laveroni Community Park center, is putting together a task force of kids, parents, teachers and others to help shape the project. Ideas are already flowing: set up a flight simulator, bring in rangers, sponsor wilderness hikes, start a nature center with kids as docents.

It's all the reverse of how things are usually done in Tuolumne County. More often we wait for government or private industry to propose or build something, then we gripe that it wasn't done right. Next we fault our leaders for not asking our opinions first and, maybe, threaten to throw them out of office.

But this isn't how GAINs operates.

Instead, according to founder and chairwoman Barbara Broad, the organization takes a long look at the Groveland area's needs, then seeks ideas and funds with which to meet them. Founded in 2000, GAINs is a board consisting of south Tuolumne County service club, charity and civic organization leaders.

"We represent a number of small organizations," said Broad. "We thought we could accomplish together what we couldn't do alone."

It has solicited the opinions of hundreds, won thousands of dollars in grant funds and has been instrumental in improving life for Grovelanders in areas ranging from recreation to health care to Halloween.

The youth center project is just the latest cause GAINs has run with. A look at its history of activism and accomplishment:

? In 2002 the organization conducted a "photo survey," giving 20 Grovelanders cameras and asking them to snap pictures of their most and least favorite things about the area. A display of the photos spurred much wider participation in the survey.

? Later the same year, three students from Massachusetts' Worcester Polytechnic Institute spent two weeks in the Groveland area interviewing residents, distributing questionnaires and looking into grants that might be available. The student project was put together by Broad's daughter, Denise Nicoletti.

? In 2004 GAINs won a $45,623 grant from the California Endowment to improve health services in the area. A new clinic in Greeley Hill and formation of the ongoing Groveland Health Care Advisory Council were among results.

? For years GAINs has sponsored Groveland's Safe and Sane Halloween. The popular event includes trick-or-treating at businesses along Main Street followed by a costume contest and a bonfire at Laveroni Park.

? In 2005 GAINs won a $5,600 Sonora Area Foundation grant to help buy a projector, a screen and other equipment necessary to launch "Movies on the Hill," a summer series of Saturday-night films at Laveroni Park. The program and equipment have since been turned over to the Groveland Rotary Club and Rotary changed the name to "Movies in the Park."

"We get things going, turn them over to other organizations and move on," said Broad. "We're always on the lookout for things that will improve the community without hurting the environment."

A former Stanford University administrator, Broad moved to Groveland 15 years ago and found "it fit like an old shoe." Although theoretically retired, this 74-year-old woman and her GAINs colleagues work nonstop to make the South County an even better place to live.

GAINs has recognized a pressing need throughout the Mother Lode how to address the interests of youth for education, entertainment and enlightenment. Their model should be copied elsewhere.

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board Publisher Geoff White; editor Teresa Chebuhar; managing editor, news Craig Cassidy; senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.

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