Five years ago, four grandmothers marched into the mayor's office with children in tow. They said their Edgewood neighborhood needed a new community center to replace the shack where kids didn't have enough room to play pingpong and pool at the same time.
The grandmothers wouldn't take no for an answer.
Yesterday, the determined women joined Mayor Martin O'Malley in opening the 5,700-square-foot Edgewood Lyndhurst Recreation Center in West Baltimore, the first such center built in the city since 1975.
In addition to money the grandmothers raised on their own, the $765,000 center was paid for with about a half-million dollars in state money and the rest in city funds.
"We did it! We did it!" said Estella Willette, 69, as the doors to the center on Allendale Street opened. She was clutching a piece of the yellow ribbon from the opening ceremony that she said she would keep as a souvenir.
Willette, Margaret Bracey, 68, Jacquiline Johnson, 59, and Dolly Jefferson, 73, were all smiles as small children explored the community center, between new basketball courts and a playground. They also asked for and received increased police presence around the building.
Johnson said that of the four children she and the others took to visit O'Malley five years ago, one is in jail, one is a recovering drug addict and the other has fallen in "with the wrong crowd."
Now, the grandmothers have a safe place for children to play and for neighbors to meet, a place where thugs are not welcome.
"It's about resurgence," said Johnson. "It's about hope."
The four women fought for the project for nearly six years, selling food in an alley to raise money and persistently attending city meetings. They passed out candy with "Edgewood Lyndhurst" written on the wrappers to Annapolis legislators while they waited their turn to plead for funds.
"Even if the state and city weren't going to help, they were going to make it happen," said state Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat who helped the women get state funds.
O'Malley praised the women's determination.
"This has been an effort that came from the grass roots up," he said. "I'm looking at the faces of four ladies you can't say no to."
The mayor and Connie A. Brown, the acting recreation and parks director, stressed the center's importance and praised the women's efforts. Brown said no other new centers are planned and that his department's goal is to expand existing facilities and build about 40 playgrounds across the city.
Johnson said the city owes such projects not only to the children but to the taxpayers. She said many of the neighborhood's residents are homeowners and should see the benefits of their tax dollars.
"We paid for this. The people in this community paid for this," she said. "We deserve better, and we can turn this city around."