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Dunbar Community Center to merge with YMCA

Date: 2/28/2012

Feb. 27, 2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — By the description of several of the speakers at the formal ceremony to announce the merging of the Dunbar Community Center with the YMCA of Greater Springfield the event was historic, while others called it a new chapter in the venerable community organization's life.

For Gov. Deval Patrick, the announcement seemed fitting to take place during Black History Month.

He called the merging the "rounding of the circle" between St. John's Congregational Church, the Dunbar Community Center and the YMCA. He said that all three institutions were committed to youth development.

Kirk Smith, the president and CEO of the YMCA, explained to Reminder Publications that all but two Dunbar employees were retained during the change.

The name of the organization is now Dunbar Y Family & Community Center, the organization's website reflects the change and the programs of the YMCA and Dunbar have started to merge.

Although taking on another facility might seem like a strain on the YMCA's resources, Smith said the merge actually brought forth new funding.

He cautioned though, "Dunbar is not out of the woods yet financially, but we're getting there."

Thomas Creed, board chair of the YMCA, said that five entities "invested" in the merge, making it possible: the Amelia Peabody Foundation, Baystate Health, the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company and the United Way of the Pioneer Valley.

In a written statement about the merge, "the rapid impact of recessionary pressures and the agency's inability to keep pace with its evolving financial paradigm" was "overshadowing" the mission of Dunbar.

Smith said the emphasis at Dunbar would be on programs reflecting the Y's priorities of "spirit, mind and body." He said young people in the after-school programs from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. wouldn't have time to get in trouble.

"[We'll] work them so hard all they will want to do is to go home and go to bed," he said with a smile.

Membership in the new center is on a sliding scale based on income. For example, the cost per month for a family with an annual income of $25,00 to $40,000 is $16 for an adult, $24 for a family and $5 a month for a teen. Membership includes free group exercises, free teen programs, family events and year-round swimming at the Springfield and Scantic Valley Family centers, among other features.

Dunbar will also offer programs for seniors and after-school childcare.

Smith added that the Springfield YMCA is the fourth oldest in the world and although he is "very, very proud of its heritage," he noted that YMCAs a century ago were not the most welcoming places for people of color. Community centers such as Dunbar came about "out of necessity," he added.

Victor Woolridge, the board chair of Dunbar Community Center, explained how the center was part of the social services offered by St. John's Congregational Church and the leadership of its long-time pastor Dr. William Deberry.

"The reason we're here is for the community, for the children; nothing comes before that, the mission of the Dunbar," he said.

Raymond Jordan, former state representative and Faith-based and Neighborhood partnership Coordinator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, proudly called himself a "Dunbar kid." He called the center "a grand oasis of hope and good life."

Speaking about Black History Month, Patrick recalled his grandmother, the daughter of an "Irish planter and a black char woman." He said his grandmother traveled through the South and wouldn't accept the normal practice of African-Americans being delegated to eat in the kitchens of restaurants.

"There were thousands of acts of small defiance," Patrick said. "That's what brought Jim Crow to it knees."

Patrick continued, "Young people need to know ours is a legacy of courage, struggle, resiliency and achievement."

Speaking directly to the many young people gathered at the event, he said, "This is your time. You are our future."

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