Under Armour re-imagines a community center in East Baltimore. (WJZ)
The unmistakable stamp of Under Armour is on the more than $6.5 million renovation and expansion of the UA House at Fayette, an East Baltimore community center run by Living Classrooms.
Its walls are filled with Under Armour slogans such as "I Will" and "We are just getting started," and it boasts a new gymnasium and enclosed turf field.
But as officials of Under Armour and Living Classrooms welcomed students, community members and elected officials to the center's re-opening Tuesday, they emphasized the UA House was designed to be about more than sports. It will offer community-based education, job training, and health and wellness programs to children and adults.
"It's a multi-generational approach," said James Piper Bond, president and CEO of Living Classrooms Foundation. "It is a very multi-faceted approach. Our job is to truly disrupt the cycle of poverty."
The state-of-the-art facility on East Fayette Street will serve as the hub of a half dozen community centers in the Baltimore Target Investment Zone, an initiative to offer programs and services to residents of some of East Baltimore's neediest neighborhoods, including the Perkins Homes, the Fayette Street corridor and McElderry Park communities.
The 2.5-square-mile area of mostly poor neighborhoods is home to 35,000 people and 9,100 students in 18 schools, Bond said. Living Classrooms now serves 2,000 people in the "investment zone" area and aims to boost that to 9,000 eventually, he said.
The center that Living Classrooms had run for about seven years had become rundown before Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank offered to become its sponsor about a year ago, Bond said.
Plank, who founded the Baltimore-based athletic apparel company and sits on Living Classrooms' board, donated $5 million through his private Cupid Foundation. Under Armour gave $1.275 million to support activities at the center over several years.
Other funding came from the Baltimore Ravens, which donated $1 million for the building and health and wellness programming and $500,000 from the state. Other contributions came from Clark Construction, the Ripken Foundation, and Joseph and Debra Weinberg.
The project included a 10,000-square-foot expansion and complete renovation. The center originally was built after former high-rise public housing on the site was demolished and redeveloped as Pleasant View Gardens.
The remade 30,000-square-foot facility features a covered turf field, a tutoring center, a workforce development and entrepreneurship center, a dance and yoga studio, a recording studio and a neighborhood kitchen.
Addressing the community members and students at the opening, Plank said he has watched as the number of community centers in Baltimore fell from 150 in 1990 to 42 now. He likened the impact of the UA House to a starting a fire with a match and then throwing kerosene on it, saying he anticipated 30 similar centers sprouting around the city.
"This one is meant to be a model," Plank said. "This is not meant to be just one house. This has got to be a house that's a little match, and all we need now is the kerosene. And the kerosene comes from the success and pride of the people in this room.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who joined federal, state and city officials at the opening, said the center would help city children reach their potential.
"You should never doubt him," Rawlings Blake said of Plank, "because every time you think he's doing something 'here,' you take it to a whole, as we say in Baltimore, a whole 'other' level."
Tyaonna Jones, 9, a fourth grader at City Springs Elementary School, came to the opening with her mother to help demonstrate how she uses computers in the music studio, where she attends after-school classes every day.
She said she likes the class because "you get to express your feelings. You get to learn new things about your voice."
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The center's director, Travis Street, said running the center for Living Classrooms lets him live out a lifelong passion "to do the work in our community, not to talk about the work, but to get up each and every day and help strengthen our community."
The nonprofit Living Classrooms provides hands-on education and job training using urban, natural and maritime resources as "living classrooms."
Bond said the center provides GED classes and workforce training to adults and after-school programs and help with homework to children.
With the new indoor field, the center's "a place where children can come and exercise and be healthy and play soccer and lacrosse and rugby and football," said Bond, noting that many of the nearby schools lack fields.
"We had nothing like this when I was growing up in this community," Street said.