EDITORíS DESK: Defining a community center
So, what is a community center, after all? A search online revealed a lot of similar (though not identical) definitions. The basic consensus seems to be that a community center is a place where people can socialize, exercise or educate themselves.
Those opportunities have certainly existed at the West Intergenerational Center - more recently named the Westside Community Center - since it opened in 1993.
But the fact that the definitions vary here and there shows that a center can have flexibility, based on community needs and wants, not to mention unique situations.
And of course, on the Westside, "unique" can apply to almost everything. The Billie Spielman Center is an example of that. I have not unearthed the full origin story (if any of you know it, please fill me in), but it is undeniable that the center has been helping people down on their luck for about half a century.
As such it too became part of the definition of the Westside's Community Center, when it was inside West Middle School up to 2009 and ever since then at the former Buena Vista school.
But it's also unique what the Woodmen Valley Chapel has been doing since it took over the center - bleeding red ink - from the city in 2010. Through volunteers and hard work, Woodmen has made a place where people can learn, exercise, garden, meet, take their kids, find entertainment, take advantage of cool free or low-cost opportunities, even come together as a community.
But what happens when one definition of "community center" bumps up against another ? That seems to be what happened this year with Billie Spielman. With the Westside Center tight on space for the programs it wants to offer, Spielman happened to be in the only remaining building with easy access. So Spielman had to move out. Then its parent agency could not find an alternative Westside location over a span of several months. It's sad, yes, and leaves a bit of a need gap. But perhaps there had been too much dependency on federal dollars. Anyway, I like how the Community Center is helping people help themselves. Let's add that definition to the list.