Five Towns community center is a beacon of hope | Herald Community Newspapers
Inwood resident Pat Jones was 13 when she first entered what was called “the mansion” behind the football field on the Five Towns Community Center campus in Lawrence.
Called the Trades School then, it was originally known to members of the community as a Settlement House. Established in 1907, this is where young people learn industrial skills that propel them into gainful employment.
The house was one of many projects funded by Five Towns resident Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, executor of her millionaire husband’s estate, Russell Sageafter his death in 1906. Also called the Inwood Community Center, it was renamed the Five Towns Community Center in the 1970s.
The building currently in use on Lawrence Avenue was erected in 1972. The center is operated in partnership with Nassau County and leases the building from the county. The current lease expires in 2024.
“It’s a place close to my heart and much needed because of the services there,” Jones, 66, said of where she learned secretarial skills – starting with typing – which she needed to become administrative. Assistant to the Senior Vice President of Operations for Long Island Rail Road.
“It’s a local place, a place that’s desperately needed, and the resources are there for people to take advantage of,” said Jones, who is now retired and serves as secretary to the community center’s board of directors. .
His daughter, Keisha Jones, participated in the center’s Head Start program and his grandson, Charles Smith, participated in the after-school program.
Head Start now serves 76 students and about 500 youth participate in a variety of youth programs, said executive director K. Brent Hill. The center also offers after-school programs at schools in Five Towns, including the Franklin Early Childhood Center and Hewlett Elementary School.
Hill arrived at the community center in November 2019. Just four months later, he was managing operations amid a pandemic.
“I think I had some great ideas coming into this role in terms of building activities and community interactions,” he said. “Unfortunately Covid has put the kibosh on that. And I had to switch roles, and I went from working one-on-one with my staff to keeping everyone safe and preparing our staff for remote work.
One ongoing community interaction is the center pantry. Led by Inwood resident Sasha Young, the Herald’s 2020 Person of the Year, Gammy’s Pantry, which has been complemented by a partnership with Long Island Cares since June 2020, continues to help feed those who have lost their job, whose hours were reduced, fell ill or, during the pandemic, cared for a sick family member.
Hill points out that the pantry remained open throughout. Along with Long Island Cares, the food pantry has partnerships with local organizations, including Cedarhurst-based Rock and Wrap It Up! and stores such as Trader Joe’s. The pantry had more than 4,000 families registered as of the end of last year, Young said.
The center also fills a need for recreational programs and social services. A revitalized Police Activity League program began in 2021, featuring activities ranging from arts and crafts to basketball. “I think it’s a wonderful additional resource for our young people,” Hill said, noting support from Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder.
“It also builds bridges between law enforcement and youth,” Hill added, “which I think is vital.”
The center also hosts Inwood’s annual Unity Day celebration, a variety of health fairs and seasonal holiday events, and there is a community garden and summer camp.
Helping people deal with addiction, the Center’s Drug Abuse Committee offers family and group psychological and social counseling with the goal of working to address addiction, behavior and their emotions. A special feature is peer counseling. Those who have struggled with substance abuse and its associated difficulties work with CODA clinicians to counsel clients.
Inwood resident Helen Hunter, 82, has been involved with the community center since she was a child. She was 6 or 7 years old, she said, when she attended a summer camp held at the colony house years ago, and remembered activities like crocheting, knitting and macrame. She retired from teaching at the center in July 2011. Shortly after, Hunter received a call asking her to fill in for a day. It always fills.
“I’ve done a lot of things – I just can’t remember a lot of things that I’ve done,” Hunter said. “I loved the dances they had there, and I was always involved in that. I was just always there, available as I am right now. You can call me and I say OK , I will be there.
Connecting the past to the present, Hill said that just as the trade school helped assimilate immigrants who came to the United States in the early 20th century, the community center is now educating a new generation of immigrants.
“Some people — many people in the country have their own struggles, and it’s harder for them to raise their hand for another person,” Hill said, describing the center as [“??]a glimmer of hope, a glimmer of promise. “So I feel very lucky that the agency is here. And as an individual, I am able to reach out and help those in need.
Do you have a story about the Five Towns Community Center and the role it has played in your life? Send a letter to [email protected]