After years of trying to secure property on Ashmun Street, on Saturday the University opened the doors to a new community center in the Dixwell neighborhood, alongside the Yale Police Department’s new headquarters in the recently completed Rose Center.
The Dixwell-Yale University Community Learning Center — which contains a community meeting room, a computer station with 16 machines, a kitchen, and general program space — held an open house to unveil the new center and introduce Dixwell residents to its community programs, which the center plans to put into effect next week.
The center plans to offer a literacy-based shadow puppet workshop for third graders, a biweekly after-school sports program for middle school students in conjunction with the University’s athletic department, and theater workshops run by the Heritage Theater Ensemble.
Projects for adults include a 12-week financial literacy program as well as general literacy programs and courses in home-ownership.
Reggie Solomon ’98, program director of Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs, said the community center has been in the works for years.
“It came about with the purchase of a parcel of land previously owned by the American Linen Company, which wasn’t a very good-looking site,” he said. “The Dixwell community leaders initially asked Yale not to exercise its option to purchase the property, but when the economic development office began talking it up to an asbestos removal site, the very same community leaders came back and asked Yale to buy the site.”
As a result, the Rose Center was constructed on the site to house the Dixwell Community Center as well as the YPD.
The center’s program director, Makana Ellis ’05, said the programs currently in place are a product of months of discussion with Dixwell residents about what they felt the neighborhood needed most in a community center, Solomon said.
“When I started in October, I did a lot of door-to-door visits and surveys to find out what the community wants, what programs it needs,” Ellis said, citing homework assistance and job preparation for high school students and literacy programs for adults as among the top requested programs.
Inspiration for other programs available at the community center resulted from consultations with Stetson Public Library, Career High School, and student organizations at Yale University.
Ellis said the center’s open house last weekend was attended by more than 200 residents in the Dixwell community.
“We’ve signed up a good amount of people so far for the youth programs and financial literacy programs,” Ellis said. “The deadline is next week, so we’re expecting to get even more before then.”
Residents in the Dixwell area said they had favorable impressions of the new center after visiting the open house last weekend.
“It’s a nice building — better than what was there before,” said Helen Powell, who lives across the street from the center. “This center should be good for us.”
But other residents said they feel that the center’s programs could focus more on older teenagers.
“Most of the stuff they’ve got is geared toward younger kids,” said Ophelia Smith, Powell’s neighbor and mother of one 17- and one 18-year-old. “I’m quite sure other people are concerned because a lot of other kids around here have nothing to do in the afternoons.”
Ward 22 Alderman Drew King said the center will certainly provide after-school programs for many children who would otherwise have little opportunity to experience them.
“It will be a place to teach kids about drug prevention, show motivational movies, and generally occupy kids to keep them off the street,” King said. “It’s really a great blessing to the community, and we’re really excited about it being there.”
King said there have been five shootings in the area, one of which was fatal and all of which included adolescents. He said he sees the center as a source of greater security in the area and believes it will help deter crime in the future.
While many community leaders have taken part in the effort to open the center, Ellis said she hopes everyone will continue in their commitment to providing these programs for the area.
“We greatly invite any more support from city organizations, student groups, and Yale staff and resources, but we can definitely grow with what has been given to us,” she said.
Solomon said he predicts interest in the center will remain strong.
“There’s been a specific focus on youth programs citywide,” Solomon said. “With a clearly articulated priority like that, I don’t think this center could have come to us at a better time.”