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Student's journal of days in LA leads to published book

October 14, 2003

South Central Los Angeles isn't known for its neighborliness, its strong families or its positive effect on young people. Mention Fifty First Park and the surrounding area and you're likely to hear stories of rape, robbery and gang bangers.

But that wasn't what Joyce Holland found in her stint there as a recreation director. And it's that element of surprise, of goodness flourishing in an area that seemed to embody the worst of LA's inner cities, that aroused the interest of a publisher.
October 14, 2003

South Central Los Angeles isn't known for its neighborliness, its strong families or its positive effect on young people. Mention Fifty First Park and the surrounding area and you're likely to hear stories of rape, robbery and gang bangers.

But that wasn't what Joyce Holland found in her stint there as a recreation director. And it's that element of surprise, of goodness flourishing in an area that seemed to embody the worst of LA's inner cities, that aroused the interest of a publisher.

Leathers Publishing of Overland Park, Kan., published "Fifty First," a semi-biographical account of Holland's days at Fifty First Park, in September.

Hollandnow a mother of three and a soon-to-be graduate of Austin Peay's communication programwas just 19 when she accepted a transfer from an upper-middle-class park in Northwest LA to South Central LA's Fifty First Park.

"My family thought I had lost my mind," she recalls.

Her coworkers, too, thought she was nutsand doomed. "There was a bet going around that I would be robbed, raped or shot in my first 30 days on the job."

They were almost right. "I was with a bunch of kids at one of the dances the teen club gave when I heard these pops," Holland recalls. "It was near the Fourth of July, and I thought, 'Why, someone has the unmitigated gall to throw fireworks at my feet!' Then I realized it was bullets."

But they were dead wrong about the kids. "The kids were wonderful," Holland says.

She recalls teenagers who worked hard to raise money for supplies and equipment, and children who treasured the basketballs and crayons and cans of Play-Doh bought with the proceeds.

Parents, too, were more supportive and involved than Holland expected. "We had moms and dads who worked to raise money for trophies and uniforms for the kids."

Proving her parents and her coworkers wrong, Holland remained at Fifty First Park for three years, until legislation ended funding for the program.

When she left, she took memoriesand a journal of her experienceswith her. Years later, after her marriage to a soldier and a move to Clarksville, she found the journal in a "pile of memorabilia" and photos of the kids. While her own childrenthen 3, 1 and 2 monthsslept, she wrote of the young people in her past.

"It took five years. I wrote a page, a paragraph, a line at a time," she says.

When it was done, she began a search for a publisher. Happily, her brother, who's also a writer, had some connections with a small publishing company.

A year and a half later, "Fifty First" was published. How did it feel to hold the book in her hands? "Surreal," she says. "It still does."

After she graduates, Holland will hit the road to promote her book. Along the way, she'll be promoting Austin Peay. "If it weren't for the professors there, I wouldn't have finished it," she says. "I learned so much from them."

The book is available from Amazon. To order online, go to http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1585971863/104-1815549-1034330
Debbie Denton