New task force aids fundraising for Westside and other community centers, but still long way to go

       Less than six weeks till March 31. $600,000 needed. Less than $10,000 raised.

Dave Hughes, fundraising leader for the Westside Community Center, speaks at the press conference outside City Hall Feb. 16. At far right is City Councilmember Sean Paige.
Westside Pioneer photo

       This is the situation for a task force that's formed in the past couple of weeks with the hope of preserving the city's four community centers (including West-side).
       Called the Colorado Springs Community Center Task Force, the volunteer group of about 30 people has united mainly through the Hillside and Deerfield centers. They brought their message the night of Feb. 16 to the Westside Center, 1628 W. Bijou St., after a press conference earlier that day on the steps of City Hall downtown.
       The informal meeting at the center mainly consisted of fundraising plans and ideas. Task force members talked about seeking grants, contacting businesses, going door to door with flyers and organizing events that could bring in money.
       There was also an exchange between Task Force Chair Eric Phillips and Dave Hughes, who in late January had separately started a fund with the Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS) specifically to save the Westside Community Center.
       Phillips said that the task force has so far raised $5,000. Hughes said at the press conference that the total for his fund is up to $4,380. At the meeting, Phillips grinned, “We can say we raised that together.”
       Hughes is aiming for a $140,000 target - a figure provided by City Parks - for keeping the Westside Center open after the city money runs out March 31.
       The center closures were part of citywide Parks Department cutbacks in a drastically tight budget year that have also impacted swimming pools, parks maintenance and Rock Ledge Ranch.
       A Westside success is Rock Ledge, whose volunteer Living History Association (LHA) has announced it will keep the ranch open for this year's season - although that means drawing on all its reserve funds and counting on gate receipts being similar to last year's. As a result, the LHA is continuing to fundraise, said its president, Ron Wright, at the press conference.

Eric Phillips, leader of the task force seeking to save all four community centers, talks with Phillip Young, director of the Billie Spielman Center, in the Westside Center after the meeting there Feb. 16.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The task force's $600,000 target encompasses West as well as Hillside, Deerfield and Meadows Park centers. Like Rock Ledge, the centers were all given funding for the first three months of 2010 to see what kinds of support they could gather.
       District 3 City Coun-cilmember Sean Paige, who had convinced a majority of council to pry the three-month funding loose, said at the press conference that he was “very excited and very heartened at the number of people who have stepped up to the challenge” of seeking outside funding. However, Paige added, “We need more people to step up.”
       In his comments at the press conference and in the Westside Center meeting, Phillips said that the task force has two tracks - one short-term, to keep the centers going after March 31, and the other long-term, to find the kind of steady funding that will let them “become sustainable.”
       Phillips, a disabled veteran who has raised money for Hillside Center previously, said the centers in general provide activities as well as morale boosters for the residents and school kids who live around them. “In time of recession, the worst thing you can do is take away people's hope,” he said.
       Citing his experience with the OCCHS, Hughes volunteered at the meeting to help the task force write grants. However, he expressed some doubts about how successful that effort might be, because of the difference between the setup of his fund and the task force's. The Historical Society has pledged to make refunds to individual donors should Hughes' “Save Our Community Center” drive fall short; meanwhile, the task force is not set up to allow refunds on the advice from business people that such would be a “logistical nightmare,” Phillips said.
       If its fundraising campaign falls short, he said at the press conference, the money will go to “youth programs.” He clarified at the meeting that a final decision in such a case would be made by the task force but the money would definitely go to a “good cause.” Hughes said he believes that such a lack of specificity would hurt the task force's chances in a grant application.
       Asked afterward about the realistic possibility of raising $600,000, Phillips said the group would work as hard as possible and then at some point before March 31 go to City Council and say something like, “We've done all that we could, now what can you do to help us out?”
       Money can be sent to the OCCHS' Save Our Community Center fund (for the Westside Center only) at 1 S. 24th St., 80904. For more information, call the center at 636-1225.
       The fund for all four centers is called Save Our Community Centers. It can be accessed at Click Donate On-Line, then on Community Development, then on Save Our Community Centers. For more information, call Phillips at 321-2912 or go to the task force's website:

Westside Pioneer article