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Friday, October 24, 2014
Momentous occasion for a local institution
Five Towns Community Center marks 105 years
By Ann E. Friedman
Courtesy Five Towns Community Center
This photo was taken in the late 1970s or early 1980s, according to the center’s director, Peter Visconti. From left are former Associate Director Jonathan Davis, former Executive Director Sadie Scott and Visconti.

From trade school to settlement house, the Lawrence-based Five Towns Community Center boasts a rich history, and has lent a helping hand to countless immigrants from Europe — including Irish, Italian and Jewish families — as well as Southerners who migrated north. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited the center in the 1960s.

This year, the facility is celebrating its 105th anniversary. “The center has a long, rich history, and I’m very proud to be a part of this momentous occasion with those who go back to some of the center’s early years,” Executive Director Bertha Pruitt said. “Whenever you talk to some of the old-timers whoare still here with us, you can see in their eyes fond memories of the good old days. I always love to hear the stories because you know that the feelings run deep and the relationships remain strong.”

The Margaret Sage Industrial School was built in 1907, and was later called the Nassau Industrial School, or trade school. It stood on what are now the community center’s soccer fields, at 270 Lawrence Ave. In 1942 the building was renamed the Five Towns Community House, and began operating as a settlement house.

“The concept changed from a trade school to caring for children, teens and families,” said Peter Visconti, the center’s director.

In 1964, the federal Economic Opportunity Act required municipalities such as Nassau County to establish economic opportunity commissions, with the aim of helping those living in poverty. “Many of the center’s programs came out of that,” Visconti said, “including Head Start, employment training, drug treatment, our senior center and Aid to the Foreign Born program.”

Pruitt, who was appointed executive director in 2009, first came to the center in 1974 with a youth services program.

Marie Caronia, a longtime Inwood resident, has been working at the community center for 44 years. In 1967 she took a job as a secretary, and assisted with the after-school program. “You don’t realize how fast time goes,” she said of the 105th anniversary. “It’s a big celebration because we’ve been here so long, and so many people remember this place as the trade school. It goes way back.”

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