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Blending the young and the old


Turners Station's new community center embraces history, but also caters to future generations.

Seniors can enjoy their days at the Fleming Community Center with sewing, pool and card games, while children can entertain themselves with a large gym and playground, or use the 17 computers in the Kay Ruppersberger Learning Resource Center.

The center, a gray-bricked complex in the middle of the historically black east-side community, had its grand opening on July 7. It houses a Baltimore County Department of Aging Senior Center, programs run by the Department of Recreation and Parks, a reading and learning center, and a soon-to-open Head Start Center.

"This is good for the community," said Jerome Hancock, chairman of the Fleming Senior Center Council. "This is good for the seniors, but it is also good for the kids in the community. It gives them something positive to do and takes them away from negative things."

The site originally held an elementary school, built in 1943 for the community. It was closed in the mid-1960s, and the property was turned over to the county.

In 1975, the recreation council of Turners Station, the oldest certified recreation council in the county and the oldest African-American recreation council in Maryland, began to use the building for community events and a senior center run by volunteers.

The building was demolished in 1998 because of unsafe conditions.

Many residents' homes hold remnants of the original center.

"Some people took bricks from the old community center after it was torn down," said Helen James, a 41-year resident of Turners Station and a Head Start Teacher at the community center.

Bricks aren't the only link to the community's history.

Martha Allmond, 91, was one of the founders of the original community center. Allmond says that she, along with the late Haze Wilson, petitioned county officials for the center,

"It was really good for the elderly people because instead of staying home or watching television, they could come down and play a game and talk to each other," she said.

The lives of many of the people who volunteer or participate in the center's programs are intertwined.

The center's receptionist, Francis Allen, is Allmond's god-daughter. Hattie Douglas, an adult leader for the recreation and park's summer camp playground, says, "A woman in this center taught my husband, children and grandchildren."

Center officials sought to make sure that the children could learn from adults - and vice-versa - through intergenerational activities.

That was evident from the opening ceremony, in which both the American Legion and children from Dundalk Middle School participated in the presentation of colors.

The center, which had been promised to the residents of Turners Station for almost five years, is part of a larger plan by County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger to strengthen neighborhoods.

Neil Mangus, director of county recreation and parks, says that the building will not only strengthen Baltimore County, but also may bolster the department.

"We will be able to extend our activities now that there is a gym. I hope this will bring more people out," he said, noting that most recreation and parks events will not kick off until fall.

But for community residents such as Head Start teacher Shirley Ecton, this building, encompassing thoughts of the past and hope for the future, has meant more than outsiders will ever know. "It's like they said, 'Turners Station, we haven't forgotten you.' "

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