Sharpstown and Gulfton Celebrate Ribbon Cutting of The Garden Youth Community Center

Sharpstown and Gulfton Celebrate Ribbon Cutting of The Garden Youth Community Center
Makenga and Omega Samuel cut the ribbon at the Garden on Thursday, June 6, 2024


Kevin D. Lee slides his queen to the back row of checkered squares, lining up with Marc Anthony Martinez’s defenseless king.

“He always kicks my butt every time,” says Martinez. The two face across a table—surrounded by abstract paintings—in the Study. It’s one of many rooms in the Garden, a new community youth center that opened at St. Luke’s Methodist Gethsemane on Thursday, June 11.

That morning, hundreds had gathered outside the east door of the Garden. The speakers didn’t keep the crowd waiting long. St. Luke’s senior pastor Tom Pace and District J Council Member Edward Pollard thanked the donors who made the center possible, and Garden youth board co-chairs Alexander Lopez and Erica Ngo highlighted the importance of the center to longtime Sharsptown/Gulfton residents like themselves.

"I was actually born in the hospital behind y'all before it was known as KIPP Connect," quipped Lopez. He added that, at the Garden, "we hope every young person has an opportunity to ask themselves, 'Who am I, what do I believe in, where am I going, and how can I get there?'"

Community representatives Makenga and Omega Samuel cut the green ribbon to a drumroll from the KIPP school drumline. Then the crowd streamed into the youth center past the reverberating drums.

In the gym, kids rushed to inflatables, and parents and youth visited nonprofit booths ringing the room. Attendees were free to explore other parts of the center, including the Forum, the Study, the Ruach Room, multipurpose rooms, offices, and more. (See this previous Sharpener article for a visual tour.)

Upstairs, Lee, Martinez, and his friend Jacob Lopez found the chess boards in the Study. Martinez and Lee have been facing off since Martinez was in 9th grade at KIPP Connect, a charter school next door to the Garden. Lee teaches instrumental music there, and Martinez and Lopez just graduated.

Lee plans to volunteer at the Garden—hopefully doing something related to instruments. “Wherever I am working, I consider myself a part of that community.” He’s already helping—his 4th-grade band played the drums for the ribbon-cutting.

Martinez and Lopez think they’ll come here to study. Bellaire resident Maureen Alsup, wearing the green bandana of a volunteer, walks up to ask them if they know about the membership sign-up booth downstairs.

At the next chess board, eighth-grade Mo says he wants to come to the Garden for basketball and chess. “It’s a place that helps the community come together.”

Down the black-and-white checkered hallway, recent college grads Derik Mercado and JP Perez watch dozens of people mill around the Gallery, gazing at the black-and-white portraits on the walls. Mercado, visual events director at local nonprofit Alta Arts, took most of the photographs, and Perez, Alta’s exhibition director, framed them.

The portraits showcase members of the Garden’s youth board and other people from the Sharpstown/Gulfton community. “Sometimes Sharpstown, within the rest of Houston, doesn't get a good rep," says Perez. Part of the gallery's purpose is "showing that these are just people, this is another community, and they're all great kids. I got to talk to all of them."

Mercado, who runs his own videography company, says he’ll teach videography and filmmaking classes at the Garden this summer—one for 11-16-year-olds, and one for 17-24-year-olds. He plans to include “hands-on, practical teaching” that gives students “a solid foundation for their portfolio.”

The Garden will offer other classes and activities, along with spaces for youth to play basketball, pickleball, volleyball, or indoor soccer—or just hang out. The Garden will also host offices for several partner nonprofits, including workforce training organization PX Project, which will run a community cafe inside.

Touring the second-floor hallways, Sandra Rodriguez, president of the Gulfton Super Neighborhood Council, said that a place like the Garden “changed the trajectory of my life.” Growing up in a Gulfton apartment complex with an alcoholic, abusive father, she could have ended up like many other Gulfton kids: joining one of the gangs that “infested” the neighborhood decades ago.

But a night club at her apartment complex got shut down and replaced with a community center and early childhood education program, San Francisco Nativity Academy. When she went, she “felt the love” that she didn’t always feel at home.

She said that the community center “changed my perspective of who I could be.” Seeing an older Latina serving in a community leadership role, Rodriguez thought, “I could be her.” Now, she’s the Greater Houston advocacy director for Latinos for Education.

"It's important to create a space centered around youth," she said. She was part of the community team that chose the Garden's name.

The youth center will fully open on June 17. Summer hours of operation will be 12:00 - 7:00 PM. Youth interested in becoming members can visit the Garden to sign up.

Read more about the Garden's philosophy and take a virtual tour:

See inside the New Youth Community Center Opening at St. Luke’s Gethsemane in Sharpstown
Youth ages 11-24 will have a dedicated space in Sharpstown starting on June 17—but the community is invited to visit for a ribbon cutting on June 6. The 53,000-square-foot building will hold everything from basketball hoops and volleyball nets to art and karate classes to versatile hangout spaces