A lack of outdoor lighting has meant less playing time on the Five Towns Community Center fields, especially during the summer months, when children can stay later. But that is changing.
Sasha Young, founder of Gammy’s Pantry, which is housed in the Lawrence facility, has said that the installation of field lights would extend participation in sports activities at night and support the center’s young members, who take part in the programs offered by Nassau County’s Police Activity League. The PAL is an independent nonprofit that operates in 40 communities including at the center, where boys and girls can be part of youth clubs, sports, crafts and educational programs.
“We do football training, baseball out there when we have it, but with no lights and evening times, field times were limited,” said Young, who serves on the board of the center’s PAL. “Sometimes we’ve had to turn the headlights on the cars to keep the field lit.”
The pandemic scuttled any hope of addressing the matter sooner. This summer, however, Young worked with Lawrence High School art teacher Robert Verone — who, Young said, shares a connection through the young campers, having taught some of their older siblings in school — and Chad Houghton, manager of the Lowe’s department store on Rockaway Boulevard, whom Verone met at the store, to create a unique partnership.
“This is about knowing what’s best for kids in our community,” Verone said. “It’s about the kids, and if you can put something like that together,” he added, referring to the lighting project, “the reward in the end is something that you couldn’t put a price tag on.”
Lowe’s donated $500 worth of field lights and hardware that was installed during the last week of summer camp, the week of Aug. 14, and members of its staff volunteered to visit the center to spend time with children who attended summer camp there, which included donating wooden racecars and planters and helping the kids build them.
"At Lowe's, we love to give back to the community in anyway that we can," Houghton wrote in text. "When Rob came to us with the idea for the lights at the community center, we were all in to help out. With the help of our community projects program at Lowe's, we were able to donate the lights, wiring and all building materials needed to help erect the lights."
With children playing at night under the lights during the summer season, the community center is encouraging parents to get involved in the PAL programs with the addition of their field lights. “We want families to have every opportunity to get involved,” Verone said.
PSEG Long Island, sent lineman on Aug. 8 to help with the wiring and educate the children about truck and electrical safety at a “Touch-a-Truck” event.
“The kids ranged from as young as 4 to 12 years old, so some of their interests were at different points,” Brandon Arias, one of the linemen, said. “However, all the kids loved the event, and the portion where we climbed up a pole and they were very interactive with questions. Very smart kids.”
Young said that all told, the work of lighting the community center fields overall took years to accomplish. But the recent work done took about three months, starting in May. The center has yet to turn the lights on, but will unveil a date ahead of the upcoming fall sport season.
The installation comes at a time of great uncertainty for the center. Its 50-year lease with Nassau County expires next July, and the county has said it will not be renewed.
The county issued a request for proposal in January, seeking a new tenant that can provide youth-oriented activities and services. The Cedarhurst-based Marion & Aaron Gural JCC and the Lawrence school district responded with proposals, and the Gural JCC’s plan involved working with the existing center.
Despite the ambiguity of the situation, Young said she continues to make it her mission to provide the services the center has offered since 1973. “It’s really amazing to know that big-time corporations get it, and understand the needs of the children in our area,” she said. “We’re very grateful.”
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