DeWees center seeks funding for renovations

The DeWees Recreation Center, in Baltimore's Govans neighborhood, is one of the oldest in the city, and it's showing its age.

"It's really in need of repair," said Sandi McFadden, community leader with the group Friends of the DeWees and secretary of the Mid-Govans Community Association, which meets monthly at the center.

The center, built in 1953, was recently awarded a $5,000 grant from coffee manufacturer Maxwell House through its Drops of Good: The Maxwell House Community Project program. It was one of 10 centers selected nationwide to receive funds for renovations.

The DeWees Center serves about 100 children in after-school programs, said McFadden. Children can walk to the center from nearby Govans Elementary School and Baltimore IT Academy. They do homework, participate in sports or enroll in arts and crafts programs, she said.

However, the computer lab has no working computers, McFadden said. That's why the center was hoping to win the online contest for the Maxwell House program, which awarded $50,000 to the top three vote-getters. Instead, the center won a smaller grant as a runner-up. If DeWees had won enough funding, it would have used the money to "change this entire facility from just a recreation center to a community learning center," she said.

"We want to expand the programs to include intergenerational programs, which are not happening there right now," McFadden said. She also noted that the recreation center is unusual in that it sits on 14 acres, and funding would help create a memorial garden, with a portion dedicated to Kenneth Harris, the city councilman who was murdered in 2008.

The Maxwell House program, launched in 2011, is a partnership between the Kraft Foods coffee brand and Rebuilding Together, a nationwide nonprofit that uses volunteers and donations to repair homes and community facilities.

Bonnie Bessor, executive director of Rebuilding Together Baltimore, said that Maxwell House worked with the national Rebuilding Together office to identify 10 cities with Rebuilding Together branches and community centers in need of repair.

"We were asked to seek out the community centers in Baltimore with the greatest need," she said. "We visited a number of centers and narrowed it down."

Choosing the center that would move forward in the contest was not easy, she said. "There are a lot of community centers in Baltimore that have a need," she said. But DeWees won out, in large part because of the supportive community surrounding it, she said.

"I have to say that one of the things that really struck us immediately when we started to talk to the folks at DeWees is, there is an incredibly strong community surrounding the center," she said. "People like Sandi McFadden. That was something that really struck us."

Community centers in Charlotte, N.C., Detroit and Minneapolis/St. Paul were chosen to each receive a $50,000 grant. In addition to Baltimore, centers in Houston, Los Angeles, Orlando, Fla., Pittsburgh, St. Louis and San Francisco will receive $5,000.

The Maxwell House website has a link that leads to information about Drops of Good, including a description of each of the community centers. About the Baltimore center, it says: "A center as vibrant as the neighborhood it serves, DeWees has been building strong community ties through after-school education for over 60 years."

DeWees remains in need of additional funding to make updates to the space, including new flooring, paint and furniture. Their wish list also includes money to create a technology center, convert a weight room to a coffeehouse, and create a center for activities including book clubs and movie nights.

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