Programming Note: There will be no Fresh Air this evening. Instead, we will air the "Reveal" documentary, including a story on the path heroin takes.
Large Youth Population Gives Maryvale Village Hope For The Future
Our series "Phoenix Votes" moves to the West Valley and District 4. Over the years, Maryvale has suffered a troubled reputation.
In 2006, police data revealed that murders, drug crimes and prostitution were at a decade-long high. The community is also home to a huge population of children, and that makes community leaders hopeful for the future.
Elizabeth Ramirez stands over the stove and stirs a pot of rice. She chats as her three children pace in and out of the kitchen. They are eagerly awaiting dinner.
The priority is keeping her children safe said Ramirez in Spanish. Even though she speaks limited English, she is involved in her kids’ schools and volunteers at the community center in her neighborhood near 35th Avenue and McDowell Road.
“Unfortunately,” Ramirez said in her native tongue, “this Latino neighborhood has a lot of problems.”
And she is right. More than 200,000 people live in Maryvale. Of the 11 designated villages in Phoenix, Maryvale has the highest number of families living in poverty.
According to the last census, more than 40 percent of adults here did not finish high school, but Maryvale also has the largest population of kids, more than 76,000. That is about the entire population of Ahwatukee.
“It’s a high minority area so it gets looked down upon. 'Oh, I don’t want to go out there with them,'” said Dwight Amery.
Amery is known as Mr. Maryvale. He got the nickname after decades of living and working here. Amery helped create the Maryvale Revitalization Corporation in 2005 to get all these kids involved in their neighborhoods.
“To kind of put it in context, when you say well there’s crime and there’s this and that, well obviously the more people you fit into in a small area, you’re gonna have crime. The other side is there enough services out here for the kids,” Amery added.
One of those services is a Maryvale police unit that scouts for house parties and underage drinking. On a recent drive-along, five police cars rushed to a house where a few dozen teenagers were drinking beer and taking shots of liquor. Police said the goal is to intervene before a more serious crime occurs.
And there are signs this and other efforts are working. In the last few years, city departments, churches and more than 40 community organizations have worked together to reach out to Maryvale kids. Golden Gate Community Center is among those. Johnny Gonzales heads its recreation center where a group of kids battle over a game of foosball. He said Maryvale has gotten a bad rap over the years.
“There’s really genuine good people. There’s tons of resources you just have to really get out there and meet people and not focus on the bad but focus on the good,” said Gonzales.
Community leaders want Maryvale to be defined by its progress and sense of community, and they have plenty to be optimistic about. With all the kids living here it has one of the most powerful future voting blocks in the city.