The East Oakland Rainbow Teen Center is located in a beautifully renovated site that was built in 45 days at a cost to the public of only $157,000 and offers professional level training to young people who live in an area that has a reputation as one of most neglected and violent parts of the city.
The center at the corner of 58th Avenue and International Boulevard is a unique accomplishment for the City of Oakland.
The center’s program, which only has sufficient funding to be open part time, hires instructors, who are accomplished in their fields, to train young people in state-of-the-art skills in the areas of digital audio production, digital video production, culinary arts and urban agriculture.
< p>Open for almost three years, the center offers students more than training in marketable skills. Instructors get to know the young people, jointly eat dinner with them daily at the end of class and keep in touch with them after they leave the program.
“You grow the food, you harvest it and then you prepare it and eat it together,” said Timothy Quick, instructor and coordinator of the urban agriculture program, whose expertise is especially in mini-gardens and trellises.
He works with young people to plant and maintain the garden beds outside the center. Usually, young gardeners who enter the program are mostly interested in growing flowers or fruit, he said.
Claytoven Richardson, who grew up in Sobrante Park in East Oakland, is co-director of the center and part of the music production program. An award-wining producer, he says he is excited to see young people learn the skills and then find work in the field.
“This is really incredible for me,” said Richardson, “to see them take it and use it and then begin a career with what they learn. This is an exciting opportunity to do something positive for these kids and this community.”
Andrea President, the other co-director of the program and guitar instructor, is also enthusiastic over Rainbow’s accomplishments in a short time.
“This is a hidden jewel,” she said. “It looks beautiful on the outside, and on the inside it is even prettier. People are surprised to see it on International Boulevard.
“It has a homey feel. I tell the kids who participate here that this is your home away from home.”
Elizabeth Bagot, a senior at Coliseum Prep Academy, an Oakland public school, spoke to the Post while on the way to a field trip with the program to Tilden Park in Berkeley.
Bagot, who is studying digital video production, said the Rainbow center is special to her because it gives her the tools to make her “vision a reality.”
“It has been very helpful,” she said. “You can’t work in an actual video environment anywhere else, where you can go out into the streets (to shoot video) and then edit your own films. You learn all the parts that go into making a film.”
The teachers are good, she said, “because they support you in what you’re trying to do.”
Building the Rainbow Center in 45 days at the cost of only $157,000 was the brainchild of District 6 City Councilmember Desley Brooks. She worked with the nonprofit Rebuilding Oakland Together, which provided volunteers, and the nationally known builder, Pulte Homes.
In comparison, all other council members were allocated $500,00 to build teen centers, except Larry Reid, who was building a sports center.
Besides Brooks, the only council member to build a teen center was Nancy Nadel, whose project took three years at the cost of over $3 million. That center still has not opened, though Lynette McElhaney has secured some funds for it in the new city budget.
While many allegations have been raised about Councilmember Brooks’ involvement in the building of the center, she says she worked on the project with city staff and successive City Administrators.
She said the city’s personnel department hired all the employees.
Contrary to press reports, instructors at the center said that nobody at the site worked directly with young people until after fulfilling legally required fingerprints and background checks.
The reason there were no competitive bids, Brooks said, was because city staff originally had told Pulte that it was eligible for a grant. It was only after Pulte completed the work and submitted its invoices that staff said they could not pay the company.
Ultimately, staff figured out a way to make the payment, which was approved by the full council.