Collected information about past and possible future efforts to create a Community Center in Beacon, New York.
Reporter’s Notebook: Does Beacon Need a Community Center?
By Jeff Simms, Beacon Editor | November 27, 2020
The Beacon City Council next month is expected to adopt a 2021 budget that includes $22.2 million in general spending and keeps property taxes flat.
Much of the dialogue over the proposal has focused on police spending, which, at $5.9 million, accounts for about 26 percent of city costs but will not increase substantially over 2020.
During an hourlong public hearing on Nov. 16, most residents who spoke echoed a similar thought: Let’s spend less on policing and more on recreation, food distribution, internet access and other programs that would create a more equitable distribution of municipal services. (Parks and recreation, at about $762,000, accounts for 3 percent of general spending.)
Throughout 2020, I’ve heard many residents say at City Council and school board meetings and other forums that a city-run, central facility — a recreation or community center — is something Beacon has needed for years.
At the moment, a newly constructed facility would be a heavy lift for any municipality given the uncertainty over state aid because of the pandemic shutdown. But the city did once have two facilities — the Martin Luther King Cultural Center on South Avenue, from 1969 to 2011, and the Beacon Community Center, which operated for decades from what is now the Recreation Department building on West Center Street.
However, neither facility was run by the city — the Martin Luther King center was a nonprofit and the Beacon Community Center leased space from the city, although the city at times supported both with grant funds, said Mark Price, the director of the Beacon Recreation Department.
John Galloway Jr., a 2015 Beacon High School graduate who was appointed last month to fill a vacancy on the Beacon school board, has advocated a community center in part because he attended both facilities while growing up.
“It was like home, man,” he said about the Beacon Community Center. “It instilled that mentorship that kids in Beacon really need. I still talk to my [BCC] counselors today.”
Galloway said the center provided an afterschool program where counselors helped children with homework and played basketball or other games with them. On weekends, the center had boys’ and girls’ nights.
“They touched every base,” he said. “Every Friday night you knew you were going to the BCC.”
Barbara McCaskill, who worked at the MLK center from 2003 to 2006, said she was recruited by Eleanor Thompson, the first African American woman to serve on the Beacon City Council. McCaskill described similar programming, with homework help after school and exercise, plays and other group activities. Both centers offered summer programs, as well.
Although the children and teens who visited the MLK center were mostly African American, McCaskill said the programming was all-inclusive. “We were adamant that it was for the entire community,” she said.
The city has tried to fill some of the gaps left when the centers closed by establishing an afterschool program that’s in three of the Beacon district’s elementary schools and assuming management of the University Settlement site, now home of the summer Camp @ the Camp and the municipal pool, Price noted. All relatively recent, that represented a lot of growth for an agency that was barely a real city department when he started as a part-time employee in 2008. “It’s a long, slow slog uphill,” he said.
While discussing the 2021 budget, members of the council have talked about holding “listening sessions” or creating surveys to assess the community’s recreation needs. “It’s about asking the questions and evaluating the resources we have,” said City Administrator Anthony Ruggiero.
And while a new building would almost surely be cost-prohibitive, Mayor Lee Kyriacou has floated other options, such as expanded programming at the 50-acre University Settlement, the under-utilized Memorial Building on Main Street and even the Mase Hook and Ladder fire station (also on Main), a building that will one day be available as the city consolidates its firehouses.
For years, Beacon officials debated whether (and where) to build a new, central fire station. “Thinking ‘only new’ is understandable,” Kyriacou said, “but what we have found is we can facilitate all our needs” by improving the Tompkins Hose station on South Avenue for less than half the cost of a new building.
The same approach could be taken with a community center.
“We have lots of opportunities to figure out how to leverage that,” he said. “If we do it effectively, we can make those dollars go a lot farther.”
The Martin Luther King Cultural Center was located at ??? South Ave and was in operation from 1969 to 2011 (source)
The Beacon Community Resource Center was located at 23 West Center Street (the current rec center location) and was in operation from 1965 to ???
Beacon Voices: Michelle Rhone-Collins
by Nell Timmer
On a beautiful, early fall day I sat down in the playground of the Beacon Community Center to talk with Michelle Rhone-Collins, the new director, about the past, present and future of the center.
ET: So, you are the new director of the Beacon Community Center. What is this place?
MR-C: Well, it is a wonderful facility with different activities for, primarily, right now, young people—for their out-of-school time—and older adults. So, we are open every day after school for kids to come by and participate in some academic enrichment activities and some arts and recreational activities. And a couple of mornings a week there is time for older adults to come by and take yoga, exercise classes, art classes, and workshops. Part of my work as the new director is to broaden the scope of programming so that we can include more activities for toddlers, parent support groups, especially for new parents. That was something that was very helpful for me as a new mother. I would also like to see some adult workshops in areas that folks are interested in, from budgeting to gift wrapping. And, some more comprehensive programming for teens as well.
ET: How long has the Beacon Community Center been in existence?
MR-C: It has been in existence for over 40 years, since 1965. Families have attended the BCC for generations yet there are many people who are not aware of its existence or its location. I want that to change and for people to see this as a really active resource for the community.
ET: I saw a sign on the door that there is a teen night on the second and fourth Fridays of the month. How is that attended?
MR-C: Yes, we also have a drop in center for teens that meets from 7-11PM every other Friday in the evening and teen basketball programs on Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 6-9PM. Actually, I have not seen the program in action yet. But, from what I understand groups of about 24 kids come in. They have a safe place to hang out— unstructured chill time for them, with supervision. So, when I say more comprehensive programs I mean being able to offer them cultural programs that they will be interested in like utilizing the elements of Hip Hop ( rap, grafitti, breakdancing, and DJ’ing) as a way for them to express their thoughts about their world and their place in it. I would like to incorporate some academic enrichment for them as well so that they can prepare for their post secondary experiences. Maybe even having some male and female empowerment groups. So much is needed for teens in this community. The other day I was talking to a group of young people that were hanging out by the center and asking them what they might want to do in here. First they asked if there were any jobs available. When I let them know about age limits and funding limitations, they expressed that they just wanted something to do, even if it wasn’t paid.
ET: Are there rooms inside this facility that are geared toward different types of activities?
MR-C: There is an activity room and there is a recreation room. A lot of different activities can happen in those spaces, but there aren’t any studio spaces that are geared for more specific activity, which is one of the challenges actually, because when kids are finished with homework, they move on to something that is more fun---not that homework isn’t fun, of course---and there are still kids in the space working on homework. There’s not really a small, quiet space where those kids can be. There are these great, big rooms, but not smaller activity rooms.
ET: So, the younger children that come for after-school programs are being helped with their homework as well as having some play time?
MR-C: Right, exactly. After they do their homework with our counselors who are primarily college students who are majoring in education and human services, they have scheduled activities including computer time, arts, dance, and time on the playground. They can also participate in yoga workshops, theater and acting classes, creative movement, violin lessons, and environmental education workshops offered by Stonykill Farms Education department and the Green Teens.
ET: And how late do the after-school programs run?
MR-C: The program is open from 3 to 6 p.m. every day.
ET: And is that something that is provided by the town or is it something provided on a fee basis?
MR-C: It is provided by the Community Center. We ask the parents to donate an amount for the program that helps to provide the supplies and the snacks. The Community Center is not a municipal facility; however, the City does provide some funding for some of its activities through the Recreation Department.
ET: And where does the additional funding for the Beacon Community Center come from?
MR-C: Funding comes from government grants and we receive some funding from the Dyson Foundation. Some of our activities are sponsored by the city through the Beacon Recreation Department. They actually sponsor the Teen Drop-In Center and some of the Senior Programs. And the rest is fees and family contributions. The donations are not extra, they are really integral to our programming needs. Another of my priorities is to increase the diversity of our funding including more foundation support so that we can offer high quality activities at a low or no cost.
ET: How many kids are involved in the after-school program?
MR-C: There are 63 kids involved in the after-school at the Community Center. We have between 50 and 60 children here on a daily basis for programs, so I would say it is a very well-attended program. And there is another after-school program that operates out of J.V. Forrestal Elementary School that has 15 children enrolled. I would love to beef up the enrollment over there because it is also a fantastic program with wonderful staff and activities.
ET: And is that pulling from all of the elementary schools and the middle school?
MR-C: The JV Forrestal program serves kids from Forrestal. The program at the Community Center draws from all the elementary schools. And it is open to middle school kids although we don’t have a lot of enrollment from middle school age children. The majority of kids are coming from South Avenue School because of its proximity. And we have kids coming not just from Beacon, but from neighboring communities.
ET: Do they all get bussed by their school?
ET: So, I know you have only been here for a few weeks, but I am sure your brain must be spinning. What are your dreams for this place?
MR-C: Ah, dreams…one is wanting to beautify the space to make it look more welcoming. I feel like there are a lot of skilled folk in the community that could lend their expertise and very quickly make this place look different…more warm, more colorful. And also, in a creative way, be open to all the populations who could use it. So, comfy for a toddler to be in or for an adult to be in or for a group of teens to be in. And then, also, to having the artists in the community involved providing programming and services here so that there are a lot of things going on all the time. I would like to diversify our sources of funding so that we wouldn’t have to rely on fees or family donations so much. I would like to increase the visibility of the community center by offering more activities for all age groupings. I feel like there is, or there can be, a tension between old and new in Beacon. I would like the community center to really be a picture of Beacon’s vibrant community--a space where everyone in the community feels welcome, no matter how long you have been here. Basically, a place that everybody is happy to be at and utilize to its fullest capacity.
ET: Do you have any new programs in the works?
MR-C: Well, I am working on some ideas for some dramatic programming with Daphne Richards and Edwin Lee Gibson of Thespus Brown. I am excited about the prospect of an intergenerational project being developed with Daphne Richards has a that will include young women and older women in a performance of for colored girls who sing the blues when the rainbow is enuf by ntozake shange. The performers could be mothers and daughters or grandmothers and granddaughters, or all three generations. Edwin Lee Gibson (recipient of an Obie Award for his performance of Oedipus Rex in the Seven written by Beacon’s own Will Power) will be offering acting workshops for youth and adults. We are not playing…there are some brilliant, talented and dedicated individuals who are already involved in providing programming here. Gwen Laster, an inspired violin player who has accompanied Aretha Franklin and Alicia Keys to name a few. Our dance instructor has been in several Broadway productions. I have to name drop because I just feel that the kids are really lucky to be exposed to such skilled artists and instructors who are also great educators. The two don’t necessarily go hand in hand.
ET: Do you envision having performances here?
MR-C: Yes, absolutely. I would love to do that. I would love to showcase the work the kids are doing here by having them give performances or art exhibitions. I would also love to host performances and community events here. The more community celebrations the better!
ET: What are your ideas for getting the word out about this place? Do you currently send out a brochure about your programs through the schools?
MR-C: What happens is that there are flyers sent out through the schools, but I would like to have more information out around town on the Main Street area, in the businesses that people visit. And I would like to develop a web-site as well. We don’t have anything on the web. I think that that would be very useful. We rely on flyers whenever we have an event. It would be nice to have a brochure for people to look at to see exactly what the scope of our programming is in one place.
ET: What do you need most here?
MR-C: Besides money, volunteers!! This place has a lot of great potential, but it can’t truly be a community center without community involvement. We could really use some hands-on help to implement some of the positive changes I think we can make.
ET: This playground is pretty quiet. It would be nice to come back here in a year and hear the sounds of a lot of little voices.
MR-C: I totally agree. I think the potential of this space is really amazing.