Impassioned pleas, stories from lifelong residents, and even questions on what could be done to help.
All of this was heard last week at the Five Towns Community Center in Lawrence in the effort to save this 116-year-old community resource.
A place that originally helped immigrants assimilate, taught many the skills to find jobs, and then — over the most recent half-century —offered needed programs and services, should not have to burnish its resume like a recent college graduate entering the workforce.
No matter the name — the Settlement House, the Trade School, the Inwood Community Center, the Five Towns Community Center — the institution and its staff, paid or volunteer, has exceeded its obligations. Whether to the neighbors it serves, or through the legal obligations demanded in the center’s lease with Nassau County.
That 50-year-old lease is set to expire next year, yet the county doesn’t realize how disrespectful and insulting it is to seek a new community center operator when the one that’s there now is doing just fine.
A new lease should have been hammered out by the Laura Curran administration, and if not hers, then definitely by the current one. Bruce Blakeman certainly understands the community center’s value having previously served in the county legislature, and most recently as a town councilman for the area.
Blakeman, along with fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, have many times visited the community center’s building and campus on Lawrence Avenue for meetings and events, as well as when they campaigned for votes.
They have seen the good the community center does with its after-school programs, fighting substance abuse through the Committee on Drug Abuse, and helping the recent wave of immigrants with its Aid to the Foreign-Born program.
As the Covid-19 pandemic impacted lives for more than two years, the center — through its Gammy’s Pantry — literally swung open its doors to neighbors and residents living in surrounding communities providing food and household items.
Last May, the center joined forces with Long Island Cares as the community center became a donation site for the Freeport-based nonprofit food bank.
When Covid forced Cedarhurst-based Rock and Wrap It Up! to find another venue for its annual Thanksgiving meal giveaway, the community center opened its kitchen to prepare and pack roughly 800 meals. Last year, the center served as a drive-thru pick up for a turkey giveaway helping 400 families.
When the weather is bad, the centers hosts Rock and Wrap It Up’s free Veterans Farmers Market, where older military veterans can “shop” for food and assorted items.
In addition to the after-school programs, the community center offers a game room, a summer camp, and a variety of indoor and outdoor activities and events for children and young adults, providing everything from basketball to the Easter Eggstravaganza.
When the annual Inwood Day celebration needed to find a new location, once again the community center opened its grounds. The outdoor athletic field is home to the Guatemalan Fútbol League, and more than a few youth programs.
The county invested in the community center as one of the locations to revitalize what has become known now as the Police Activity League, which offers a variety of programs for children and teenagers.
All these programs and services are free. Based on the agreement with the county, the community center is prohibited from charging fees, and therefore cannot generate revenue to become self-sustaining. All supporting money comes from the county, or in the form of grants it seeks out on its own.
On a recent Saturday — along with the usual hours for the food pantry and basketball — there was a three-hour career day and employment seminar.
There is no other one-stop venue in the Five Towns where so many programs and services are offered for free.
If the county has the time to prepare and put out a request for proposal seeking a new operator, it has the time to negotiate a new lease with the Five Towns Community Center.
Should the county have ideas on how the community center could service its neighbors better, by all means let’s hear them.
What the community center has done for its neighbors was good for the past 50 years. It should be good enough for another half-century.