New nonprofit aims for longer hours at Hialeah’s libraries and parks

A new Hialeah nonprofit organization is looking to keep libraries open longer and create new programs in the city’s public parks.

In December, lifelong Hialeah resident and former parks and recreation employee Jose Azze, 49, founded Save Our Youth Hialeah, a group that plans to work with local government, businesses and other nonprofits to increase access to facilities and programs at the city’s libraries and parks.

Azze, who spent about 30 years working in parks and recreation and retired last year, said he is contacting local businesses and foundations to get funding before approaching city officials with the group’s plans.

SOY Hialeah’s first priority is to increase library access.

In recent years, library hours have been reduced across the city. Four of six libraries are only open two days a week for five hours per day.

Azze said longer hours would give students a place to study.

“A lot of kids in Hialeah don’t have computers,” he said. Libraries “are where they go use computers when they’re not in school.”

Stephanie Cruz, a volunteer with SOY Hialeah, said she grew up in Hialeah’s parks and had good role models who led youth recreation programs.

The 20-year-old used to the work under Azze, and she said she enjoyed coordinating youth programs and helping kids with homework, playing kickball and throwing birthday parties for kids.

“I was just there for them,” she said. “I was just a positive person that they had around them.”

After the recent economic downturn, park facilities closed on Saturdays. The organization wants to restore access to restrooms and water fountains on Saturdays and have staff on site to supervise. They also hope to increase summer programming by increasing staff and activities for youth.

Azze said the group has applied for nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service.

Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez expressed concern because the organization has not reached out to the city as of Monday, and he worried the group’s shortened name, SOY Hialeah, too closely resembles Yo Soy Hialeah, a city website run in conjunction with Comcast where residents can get information about local community events.

He said parks and recreation have suffered along with other departments during tough economic times, but the city has had successful public-private partnerships in the past to benefit parks.

Isis Garcia-Martinez, president of the Hialeah City Council, said the city has made efforts to restore programs little-by-little as much as it can within the budget.

Fondly remembering a tennis program that the city is trying to restore this year, she commended SOY Hialeah for taking the initiative.

“Anybody that can help is great,” she said.

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