Center continues helping while improving

Bryan Wroten

The King Kennedy Center in Ravenna contributes to the surrounding communities through student programs, daycare services and computer classes. Amanda Sowards | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Steve Schirra

The King Kennedy Community Center has been in phase one of its construction plans for almost 30 years.

Director Sandra McKinney said the center finally has the money to move on to phase two.

Currently, the Ravenna-based center has two offices, a computer lab, a kitchen the size of a single dorm room, restrooms and a main room for activities. She said she uses the kitchen the center now has to serve 80 to 100 kids.

McKinney said what exists now was part of phase one and meant to be office space. The phase two additions, she said, will be a larger kitchen and handicap accessible rest rooms. She said the money for this addition came from a $140,000 grant they had worked on for years. By merging with Family Community Services Inc., she said the grant process sped up.

“We wanted a gym,” she said. “They helped with the bathroom and kitchen.”

Services for the Community

The King Kennedy Community Center offers programs for students from preschool to high school, as well as for adults, McKinney said. Along with tutoring during the school year and Jake’s Kids, a daycare service during the summer, the center has computer classes and movie nights.

Most of the kids in the area come from low-income families, she said, so some programs, such as Jake’s Kids, offer meals. The summer program gives breakfast and lunch to children who are normally fed in school.

“It was designed so the children would come in, eat breakfast, do arts and crafts, eat lunch and get a snack,” she said.

During the school year, students from Kent State tutor and mentor the younger students at the center, said Sasha Parker, Black United Students president. BUS members help tutor after school and provide the Progressive Education Community Schools on Saturdays, she said.

In PEC Schools, college tutors bring the students on campus to help them. Parker said BUS plans on doing PEC Schools again this year and is working to get it started. For those interested in helping tutor, she said to contact her at [email protected] or Jenchia Meredith at [email protected].

George Garrison, professor of Pan-African Studies, is also a member of the center’s board of trustees. He said the tutoring and mentoring programs at the King Kennedy Community Center exist because of Kent State students.

The center does more than just help with homework, he said.

“During the academic year and summer, we’re helping them through tutorial sessions, exposing them to other cultures in this country,” Garrison said. “We take the students to Severance Hall and expose them to European classical music.”

He said the programs take young attention spans into account. The conductor stops and speaks to the children and the musicians go over the instruments, he said.

The families that come to the community center have diverse backgrounds, McKinney said. Several children at the center come from interracial marriages, she said, so they make sure to include many different cultures in their programs so everyone feels included.

McKinney said they also take kids to productions at the Porthouse Theatre, a Kent State summer theater program with shows at Blossom Music Center. It donates 10 percent of its concession sales during the summer to the community center. She said the kids love watching the shows, especially the time the play came to the community center. The actors ate lunch with the kids after the show and talked to them, she said.

“They (kids) remembered just about every word (of the play),” she said.

Money Troubles

Funding has always been an issue with the community center. Since the center’s creation in 1978, it has offered tutoring, mentoring, meals, child and adult education and cultural enrichment, McKinney said. That’s hard to do, she said, when it only receives $25,000 to $30,000 a year from United Way to pay her salary, her assistant’s salary, fund programs and run the center.

She’s not complaining though, she said. In 1990, when she became the interim director, the center received $3,000 a year. That meant she earned about $200 to $300 a month.

“We’re progressing, but not as much as we should,” she said.

Another source of funding for the community center comes from Kent State students. McKinney said there is a check-off on the students’ tuition forms for a $2 donation to the center.

There hasn’t been a lot of advertising or education about this anymore, she said, so students either forget or just don’t know about it.

If every student attending Kent State this fall had checked the form to donate money, the King Kennedy Community Center would receive $44,634.

Without the help of United Way, McKinney said the center’s doors would close. Before United Way started helping in 1990, the King Kennedy Community center did close for a short while in the late ’80s. She said they couldn’t pay the bills.

The only other time the center closed was after someone set fire to the building in 1993. McKinney said someone broke in the day before Thanksgiving, ate the turkey for the community meal, piled the books up in corners and set fire to them. It caused $100,000 worth of damage to the building. The insurance policy only covered the center for $50,000.

“Whomever it was could have just come in and ate, taken stuff home (at the dinner),” McKinney said.

With the help of Friend Construction Co. and volunteers, McKinney said they were able to fix the center. It re-opened after 18 months, she said.

“Nobody else would help us,” she said about Miles Friend, owner of the construction company. “He donated a lot of his time, effort and materials. It would have taken years to re-open if it weren’t for him.”

After the new addition is built by Dec. 31, McKinney said she wants to focus on getting a gym for the children to play in and let adults work out. She said she also wants to get a swimming pool because the one the center has now is inadequate.

It’s a hole in the ground that fills up with water when it rains, she said. The kids go out and jump in it and pretend to swim. She keeps a picture of kids playing in it on display outside her office.

“I’m keeping the picture as an incentive.”

Contact public affairs reporter Bryan Wroten at [email protected].