The King Kennedy Community Center is hosting an open house
Residents of the McElrath Park neighborhood in Ravenna are particularly proud of King Kennedy Community Center.
Opened in 1978 when the area was considered one of the most deprived rural communities in America, the KKCC recently completed an expansion that began two years ago, a project that has spanned 50 years.
The center merged with Family and Community Services (FCS) in 2002, giving KKCC access to additional resources.
In 2020, the center inaugurated phase 1 of its expansion – a new multi-purpose sports hall. On Thursday, the community was invited to an open house at the center to tour the gymnasium and hear about the planned second phase of development.
The first phase of construction cost $798,942 and received a $125,000 increase from Portage County Commissioners when fundraising failed due to unexpected cost increases.
The indoor basketball hoops and scoreboard have yet to be installed due to supply chain issues, said Heather Laliberte, director of grants and marketing for FCS, but they will be next month. .
Currently, the center is raising funds for the second phase – adding bathrooms and storage space to the gymnasium.
“The bathrooms were actually part of the original plan,” Laliberte said. However, it was determined that the installation required a fire extinguishing sprinkler system, which increased costs and reduced the initial scope of the project.
In March, the First Congregational Church of Ravenna donated $10,000 to the center, kicking off the second phase of the King Kennedy Community Center’s fundraising campaign.
At Thursday’s open house, John Kennedy, chairman of the center’s advisory board and acting master of ceremonies for the evening, addressed the crowd from a lectern in the corner of the gymnasium. For an hour, the speakers took turns telling the crowd about the centre, its past and its future.
“First of all, I want to say thank you,” Kennedy said. “Thank you for coming today, for being present at this truly historic event. I think one of the themes today will be that this is not the end, this is just the beginning. .”
The building, he said, while a significant achievement worth celebrating, was not the only focus of the evening. The community in which the building was built is just as important, if not more so, because without the people to use it, to bring it to life, it’s just a building.
Myia Sanders, director of the King Kennedy program, took the pulpit after an introduction from Kennedy.
Sanders has been actively serving his community “everywhere” since he was 5 years old, Kennedy said. Sanders began working at the center first as an Americorps summer associate, then as a year-round VISTA Americorps volunteer before becoming program director in 2018.
Sanders welcomed everyone gathered.
“Actually, we don’t have any visitors,” Sanders said. “Anyone who comes here to the center, we consider you family.”
How the King Kennedy Community Center Came to Be
Constance Dubick, a member of the center’s advisory board who has been involved with the center for over 30 years, spoke about the history of the building and Kent State’s involvement in the original construction of the community center.
In a Daily Kent Stater article published on October 7, 1969, she said, it was announced that members of the Greek Week Service Project were joining forces with the Ravenna Community Action Council to raise $500,000 for the construction of the center.
Arvis Averette, a member of the Community Action Council at the time, is quoted in the article as saying: “This project is one of the most unique in the country. It is the largest project in the country undertaken by a group university.”
In 1970, an option to voluntarily add $1 to student tuition to benefit the KKCC was approved by a referendum put on the spring ballot by the student government. That donation is still available on KSU’s student e-bill, Dubick said.
On June 3, 1978, the inauguration of the original building took place.
“And then, in 2021, the dream comes back to life with the construction of the multi-purpose sports hall,” Dubick said to applause from the audience.
“Without community, there is no community center”
Jalessa Caples, a Portage County native in the McElrath neighborhood of Ravenna, said she appreciates any opportunity to be able to give back to her community.
Caples is an Upward Bound KSU graduate with bachelor’s degrees in science and public health and a master’s degree in public administration.
“I also want to thank you all for coming because without community there is no community center,” Caples said.
For most of her life, she has been a member of the neighborhood, watching it evolve over her 26 years of life.
“I heard the stories of previous generations of community members and their fight for justice and equality within our community,” Caples said. “We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. I believe these improvements in the middle are a start.”
She said she was thrilled to see how these improvements impact and empower the community, imploring the younger generation and those who raise them to love and support the growth of the King Kennedy Community Center.
“A strong community takes care of its members,” Caples said.
The recipients were: Deborah Crockett of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services; John Garrity of the Portage County Mental Health and Recovery Council; Portage County Commissioners Anthony Badalamenti, Sabrina Christian-Bennett and Vicki Kline; and Janice Simmons-Mortimer of the Portage Foundation.
During the event, Sanders handed out plaques commemorating people’s involvement with the center over the years, including: Reverend William Jacobs, founder of the Jake’s Kids summer program; Ann Williams Collins, former director of the KKCC; Constance Dubick; Edna Knight; the KSU students who initially advocated for the center; and David Vance, the assistant planner and fundraiser for the original KKCC construction project and the community center’s first executive director.
RL Sanders was in attendance on Thursday, brother of James Sanders, the man who owned the contracting firm responsible for building the center.
RL said seeing his brother’s work expand made him feel good.
“My heart is blossoming,” he said. “When they say it takes a family to raise a child, it took a family to raise this child here,” RL said of KKCC. “It’s more than just a community center. It’s our home…it’s a beacon to so many people scattered across the country.”
Contact journalist Derek Kreider at [email protected]