Melik Belcher’s tall, lean body stretches across a large classroom counter while working on a science project at the Frederick Douglass Community Center.
The 16-year-old Central Catholic High School sophomore visits the center every day for tutoring sessions that help him improve his science and math science skills.
But it’s more than that, he says.
“It gives me a place to have fun and someone to talk to,” he said. “It’s a second place to call home; some place to do homework.”
For 95 years, the center in Toledo’s central city has been providing community programs for residents of all ages, said Sonya Harper-Williams, executive director.
Thursday the center will host an anniversary celebration with a 7 p.m. dinner and program at the Premier Banquet Complex, 4480 Heatherdowns Blvd. A social hour will begin at 6 p.m.
Originally created to meet the needs of African-Americans, the center’s services are available to anyone.
Founded in 1919, the center currently offers programs including after-school enrichment activities, adult yoga, open gym, computer labs, youth summer camp, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, anger management classes, day care, and Head Start, Ms. Harper-Williams said.
“The center is more than a living monument to the community,” she said. “It’s a living resource that provides multiple and varied resources that are designed to meet all the needs of our community.”
Severe financial problems nearly prompted the organization’s board to pronounce the facility dead five years ago, Ms. Harper-Williams and other officials acknowledged.
New board members and Ms. Harper-Williams were engaged. Community leaders and volunteers rallied and reorganized the center to keep it alive, and they used a variety of community grants and other funding sources to do so.
No one is more pleased about the facility’s rebirth than Linda Jefferson, who teaches Head Start at the Frederick Douglass Center.
Ms. Jefferson was a star running back for the Toledo Troopers, a professional football team that competed in the 1970s.
“I can remember playing football on this exact spot,” said Ms. Jefferson, referring to where the center was built in 1979 at 1001 Indiana Ave. She participated in programs at the center as a youth.
“Now, I’m teaching Head Start here,” she said.
“It’s like I’ve come full circle in my life. This center has done a lot of people good; and it’s going to keep on doing the community good.”
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins, who once served as a volunteer basketball coach at the center, said it plays a vital role in the community.
The year was 1966, Mr. Collins, 21, had just served a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, when he was asked by Joe Thomas, a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, if he would coach a team of young men at the center.
Mr. Collins at the time was not familiar with the center, he said.
“I was the only white person there,” Mayor Collins recalls, noting the only folks who were more surprised were the nine boys assigned to play for him.
They were sophomores and juniors from Scott and Macomber Vocational Technical High schools.
The organization’s strongest ally in recent years has been Toledo Public Schools, which contracted with the center to operate several programs, Ms. Harper-Williams said.
The most successful is an in-school suspension program that sends troubled Pickett Elementary School students to the Frederick Douglass Center, which has allowed students to continue learning without disrupting other students, Ms. Harper-Williams said.
The YMCA’s Youth Opportunities Program, which has a program site at the center, also provides second chances, said Teneashia Cunningham, the center’s program coordinator.
“The staff have been very supportive and have helped me a lot,” said Toledo resident Michelle Hampton, who declined to give her age and what school she attends.
“They’re playing a double role in my life; my father died when I was eight.”
More information is available from the organization at 419-244-6722.
Contact Federico Martinez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.