SOUTH SALT LAKE A neighborhood devastated by the kidnapping and killing of 7-year-old refugee Hser Ner Moo has become reinvigorated by a project to build a community resource center in her honor.
City and school district officials here are working with a local landlord, the federal No Child Left Behind program and representatives from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to create a space for after-school programs, English classes and mentoring in a three-bedroom apartment in the same complex where the child was slain.
"It's a way of taking something really bad and making something good out of it," said Juanita Hertero, who manages the apartment complex.
The group plans to open the center at the South Parc condominium complex, 2248 S. 400 East, on Aug. 5, one night after the city's planned Night Out Against Crime festival.
The 1,325-square-foot apartment being renovated has been used for storage, said Hertero. It will have some special services for refugees, many of whom live in the South Parc complex, but will be for the whole community.
In recent weeks, dozens of children from the multicultural community have gathered to paint the apartment. The children also found a can of white spray paint and used it to draw a heart and write in Burmese on an adjacent fence. They also wrote "I love you" on a nearby street.
"We were having a ball," said Bob Ward, a service missionary working in the area for the LDS Church. "The kids over there are hilarious. They have been really instrumental. I have never been hugged so many times in my life."
The center is also getting new kitchen cabinets and tile and carpet throughout.
The South Parc complex houses refugees from places like Somalia, Myanmar, Turkey, Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico, Cuba and Mali, Hertero said. Sometimes no one can speak English, but they all play and work together, she said. And even if they don't understand everything, they are invariably extremely grateful.
The refugees are placed with the help of the federal government and charitable organizations such as Catholic Community Services. From there, a number of community groups pitch in to help the families adjust to their new lives.
"We need to help and empower these kids," said Marni Timmerman, program manager for the Utah Federation for Youth, which plans to run some programs in the new center. "We're so excited. We can't wait to get in there."
The city has applied for $200,000 in 21st Century Community Learning Center grants to help with the center, which will be called the Hser Ner Moo Memorial Community Center. Specific decisions about programming will be decided as soon as the city gets word on the funding. But the center is expected to open regardless of the federal funding.
The Granite School District could also receive some of the grant money to teach language classes.
The grants are distributed by the state as part of the federal No Child Left Behind education program. Community centers receiving the grants have to be in neighborhoods where at least 40 percent of residents are below the federal poverty level. The centers are expected to improve math and reading skills as well as behavioral issues such as school attendance.
The South Parc center still needs school and office supplies plus appliances like a refrigerator, stove, washer and dryer. Hertero is also hoping to find computers that could be used to teach community members some basics of American life. Furniture will also be needed before the center can get on its feet.To contribute or find more information, call the city of South Salt Lake at 483-6000 or contact Hertero at her office, 484-5947.