After more than three years of planning, a community center in Dixwell will finally open to the public, according to Brian Wingate Ward 29 Alder and chairman of the aldermanic Youth Services Committee.
The center, called The Escape and located at 48 Dixwell Ave., will host its grand opening this year, Wingate said. Once open, the center will provide a safe place for children and young adults in the neighborhood to do homework and participate in after-school programs. The center will also include a shelter component for homeless young men aged 14 to 26, according to Wingate.
The Escape will service a part of the city that has been without a community center since the Q House closed in 2003. Residents of Dixwell and nearby neighborhoods have rallied since then to support the reopening of a community center in Dixwell.
“Any time we can provide an outlet for our youth and put them in a safe environment, I’m happy about that,” Wingate said.
He explained that it will take some time for the city to develop after-school programs for the center. Wingate also said additional renovations to the building have to be completed before all parts of the center are open, but could not estimate when those renovations would be completed.
The homeless shelter component of the center will be able to house 50 to 75 young men, according to the alder. He said he was not sure how long homeless residents would be permitted to stay at the facility or whether the center would provide hot meals for them, but he did say that the homeless shelter portion of the center will be kept separate from the youth center.
On Nov. 12, hundreds of city residents attended a fundraiser for the project, which was hosted in the gymnasium of Hillhouse High School and raised several thousand dollars, according to event organizers. Brenda Osborn, who spoke with the News at the November event, hoped The Escape would provide young people in the city with opportunities they need and deserve.
“So many problems are caused by teenagers not having things to do,” she said. “We need more activities for the kids to do and places for them to read and write.”
The building that will become The Escape is owned by the nearby Bethel AME Church, which has been a spiritual and cultural center of the neighborhood since the 18th century. The church’s leadership helped organize many of the fundraising events for the project, including the Nov. 12 event.
Church pastor Steven Cousin, who spoke with the News at that event, said the building was previously used by the church for birthday parties and similar functions, and the effort to convert it into a community center has been very much a community effort.
Cousin explained that money to fund renovations to the building have come from both the city and the public, and that city officials and church leaders have jointly made decisions regarding how the center would be structured. Cousin added that local technical school students have done much of the work painting and wiring the building free of charge.
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said he expected funding for further renovations and for The Escape’s after-school programs to continue to come from a “hybrid of city money and some fundraising” moving forward.
Bethel AME Church was founded in 1794.
Correction, Feb. 22: Due to an incorrect statement provided to the News, an earlier version of this story stated that the center will open Feb. 28. In fact, the center has no opening date.