$2 million grant means gymnasium for community center near Eastland Mall

The Youth and Family Departments Association delayed construction of its social services center near Eastland Mall earlier this year due to soaring construction costs, and decided to scrap plans to build a gymnasium to save money.

But now a gymnasium for the new Crittenton Community Center is back in the building plans thanks to a $2 million gift from the Robert F. Wolfe and Edgar T. Wolfe Foundation.

“Directions for Youth and Families provides a lot of support for children and families,” said the foundation’s Katie Wolfe Lloyd. “That sort of fits our scope of what we tend to support: children and families.

“Hopefully this will stimulate more support for the organization,” said Wolfe Lloyd.

The 24,000 square foot community center at 3860 Kimberly Pkwy. will serve the neighboring neighborhoods of East Side and Southeast Side which have few amenities.

Rising construction costs had increased the projected price of the community center from an initial estimate of $6.6 million in July 2021 to $8.3 million in February 2022.

Some have suggested that the group should perhaps delay the project for two years. “I said absolutely not,” said Duane Casares, general manager of Directions Group. “We hacked the gym to cut costs, other amenities.”

Now the gym is back, and Casares and other members of the Directions group are thrilled.

“Without the gym, it’s like building a house without a kitchen,” Casares said.

The community center will provide food; medical, mental health and housing services; workforce development, educational support, after-school programs and kindergarten readiness programs. Casares said it will also offer after-school programs, such as dance, music, art and homework help, computer labs, a community garden and farmer’s market, as well as services. for old people.

Twenty-three nonprofit partners will work with Directions, which serves 7,000 people a year.

“There is no library in this community, no recreation center and no parks in this community. Nothing to turn to there,” Casares said. The region has also struggled with a high eviction rate.

Casares said the center should be open by June 2023. He said Directions is trying to raise more money to possibly build an outdoor amphitheater.

Quay Barnes, who heads the Middle East Region Commission, said the gymnasium is important for a region that will have growing numbers of children. She said several builders have approached the area commission to build more low-income housing in the area, including development plans on Kimberly Parkway. She said the closest city recreation center to the area is more than 2⅟₂ miles away at the Far East Community Center at 1826 Lattimer Drive, south of East Livingston Avenue.

“The gym is essential,” Barnes said.

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After:Hundreds of people in South Linden receive a free Thanksgiving dinner from the police, nonprofit

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Jill E. Washington