Here's a place Thomas would appreciate: Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center sprouted wings as an after-school program in 1994 when the city of San Pablo was so broke it couldn't afford parks and rec programs. All the city could offer center co-founders Eugene Rodriguez and Alicia Marines was Maple Hall in the San Pablo Civic Center as a space. That's all it took, as a largely Mexican immigrant community began paying tuition to involve their kids in learning to play traditional Mexican music. At a time when Latino gang violence was on the upswing, the program presented a constructive alternative. The touring performing group Los Cenzontles has recorded with Los Lobos, Lalo Guerrero, Santiago Jimenez, and many Mexican folkloric masters. And last year the center was a recipient of the 2002 Coming Up Taller Awards from the Presidential Committee on Arts and Humanities. The center serves 250 students and offers 45 weekly classes in music, dance, and arts and crafts in a variety of regional Mexican and Latin styles, along with low-cost private lessons on a variety of musical instruments.