Stanton Center is beacon of activism

The Baltimore Sun

Spanking-new sneakers squeak against the clean floor of the Stanton Community Center's basketball court, as panting boys in black and white uniforms run up and down the court.

Parents and community teenagers crowd together in the stands to watch the games. Later on this weeknight, more teenagers arrive just to hang out.

"This is one tough neighborhood, with drugs, alcohol and shootings," said George "Lassie" Belt, who has worked at the center for more than 25 years. "If [the kids] could stay here all night, they would."

Basketball is the staple at the center, which also offers homework and chess clubs. But the community that uses it -- residents of College Creek Terrace and Obery Court -- wants much more. Community leaders and the center's administrators have brainstormed ideas such as math and writing workshops and youth mentorship programs.

Annapolis Recreation and Parks officials, the center's staff and community leaders met recently and announced the formation of Friends of the Stanton Center, a nonprofit group that will raise funds and make a list of programming and activities for the community.

"We're up and running," said Richard Dion, a managing partner at the Premier Planning Group and head of the new organization. "Other companies want to donate to help support [the center's officials] in their mission."

As the center continues to receive larger donations from groups such as Merrill Lynch, which has contributed $25,000 in monetary and in-kind donations over the past year, Friends of the Stanton Center will track the funds and speak with other businesses within the area.

Using basketball, Dion hopes the parents of children who play at the center will help support it. Fundraising will be continuous.

"I think we can get to $100,000," Dion said.

Often described as an oasis, the Stanton Center, at 92 W. Washington St. in Annapolis, offers relief to the children who go there every day.

It provides lunches for the children after they return from school and hot breakfasts on Saturday mornings before basketball games. For many of the children who go to the center, those are the best meals of the day, Belt said.

The center also has a computer room, closed because of a faulty Internet connection, a weight room and a smaller activity room where younger children can draw, read and run around until the center closes at 9 p.m.

Stanton Center recreation manager Archie Trader said several programs for expanding the center were suggested during the meeting, but there is no timetable for them.

Stanton Center's Kids of Honor program awards points to students for good behavior, attendance and doing homework. The student with the most points will receive a $1,000 college scholarship upon graduation from high school, Trader said.

"Education has become a mainstay [at the center]. Without education, within the recreation center, your program is insufficient," he said.

The center also plans to offer karate and dance classes. One of the main goals discussed during the meeting was establishing a mentoring program to "start grooming young people to eventually take over the different leadership roles within the community," Trader said.

The meeting did not produce a detailed action plan for the center, and it drew few area residents.

"I thought it was successful ... but it didn't answer specific questions," said LeeAnn Plumer, Annapolis' director of recreation and parks.

Plumer said the Parks and Recreation staff would talk with residents and take a more grassroots approach to determining their needs and ways the center can help them.

Back on the basketball court, as it gets later and the first game ends, more neighborhood teenagers pack the gym.

"You see there," said Erica Matthews, whose son plays basketball at the center. She pointed to a large group of teenagers coming into the center's indoor court. "Those kids aren't playing, but they're in here watching the game. It takes them off the street, even if it's just for two hours. Indirectly, it affects even more kids."

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