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Living up to its name

September 26, 2004

Deirdre Newman

Shalimar. The word conjures up an image of an exotic place, an abode

of bliss -- the literal translation in the Indian language.

In 1994, Shalimar Street on the Westside was far from an abode of

bliss. Gang violence infested the neighborhood. Drugs were sold out

in the open. The residents were living in fear.

And then a catalyst arrived on the scene, transforming the

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neighborhood's menacing feel and liberating its residents to feel

safe again.

The Shalimar Learning Center was created out of desperation by

neighborhood moms who wanted a refuge for their children after

school. This fall marks the center's 10-year anniversary.

Shalimar has received a host of accolades over the years, spawned

a clone in Arizona and some of its graduates have been the first in

their families to go to college.

"What they did for me is let me dream and think beyond the streets

of Shalimar of Costa Mesa," said Nadia Flores, 23, one of the first

students to attend Shalimar. "They let me see so many different

things that were out there for me."

A TROUBLED PAST

Ten years ago, residents of the neighborhood were constantly in

fear, said Newport-Mesa Unified School Board member Dave Brooks, a

former police captain who patrolled the area.

"It used to be a place where people were afraid to go in their

front yards, there were cars parked all over the streets and in front

of houses, the garages and alleys were unusable," Brooks said. "If

you drove onto the street, there were drug dealers out in the open

and stuff like that."

After a gang shooting in the neighborhood, mothers organized to

take control of their streets. Randy Barth was the head of the

mission committee at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Newport

Beach at the time. Barth, and other groups interested in the

neighborhood's salvation, met with the moms and listened to their

concerns.

Barth founded the Shalimar Learning Center as an answer to their

plea.

Police redoubled their efforts to eradicate the gangs and

drug-dealing after the Shalimar Learning Center opened in the fall of

1994, Barth said.

"They didn't want any [of the kids] getting shot, so they started

trying again," he said. "They wound up blocking off the streets and

eliminated on-street parking."

The city's code enforcement department also demolished some

dilapidated apartments and created a small park, Barth said.

The physical transformation of Shalimar Street was a comprehensive

effort, including traffic specialists, the Fire Department, Police

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