By Christina Lopez
After a citywide restoration project to revitalize the Nevin Community Center and the surrounding area, the center will celebrate with a much-anticipated grand re-opening celebration this Saturday.
“I think it’s part of the Iron Triangle cleaning itself up,” said nearby resident Richard Boyd, referring to the center’s new look from the inside out. For the last three months, the center’s doors have remained open as over 50 community members volunteered hundreds of hours to wax floors, paint walls, remove graffiti, refurbish classrooms, and collect trash surrounding the center.
“Teams would take shifts to renovate and clean the center. Those working would range from 14 years old to 77 years old and across all racial lines,” Boyd said. A resident of the Iron Triangle, Boyd also works with Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO), an interfaith organization comprised of 25 congregations and youth organizations representing 35,000 families throughout the county. He helped organize city officials’ visits to the park and generate interest from residents outside the Iron Triangle.
The residents’ biggest effort was a push for new educational and community programs that will create more engaging activity within the center. Beginning on Saturday, residents will be able to register for new classes offered by the center including elementary, middle and high school after-school programs, GED preparation programs for adults, recreational morning activities for seniors, and classes teaching English and computer skills.
Technology was also at the forefront of upgrades to the center. With a grant from the Literacy for Every Adult Program (LEAP), the center was able to install 10 new computers in the computer lab as well as a “smart board” that can be used to project computer presentations onto the wall. Those who sign at the center will be able to access their e-mail accounts, work on resumes, and other online tasks.
The effort to renovate the center began last June, when Boyd, along with members from the surrounding community and city organizations joined forces to rebuild what many neighbors simply refer to as “Nevin.”
Once a thriving community center, Nevin had suffered from a lack of interest and funds. Residents of the Iron Triangle vocalized their concerns about safety at the center and in the surrounding neighborhood. “They felt it was unsafe, that it didn’t offer programs that would be beneficial to them, the building was dirty, lots of graffiti on the walls, and lots of loitering on the property and the premises,” said CCISCO community organizer Alvin Herring.
“It used to be very, very unsafe,” agreed neighbor Guadalupe Corral. “When I came here 12 years ago, it was very different. I was very afraid of getting out of my apartment. I never wanted to cross the street.”
Nevin Park Program Recreation Specialist, Ui Bal, left and Alicia Nightengale meet inside the Nevin Community Center last September to discuss a six-month improvement plan for center. (Photo by Tyler Orsburn)
Corral lives just four blocks from Nevin with her three children. She said she would never let her young children play at the center’s play lot because of fights between older children.
“Nevin has had such a negative stereotype with things that have happened there in the past, and I think the neighborhood has been through some challenging times with the crime out there,” agrees Alicia Nightengale, the city’s community development project manager.
In an effort to reclaim their community center, Iron Triangle residents, including Corral, met with city officials to brainstorm ways to rebuild Nevin. “Many of them who came forth were mothers with small children and they asked us for our help. We helped them try to figure out how to project their power and how to engage the city and city officials in a real partnership to bring needed change to the community center,” said Herring.
The concerns of many residents stemmed from a lack of security and a need for more programs for both children and senior citizens. “The center needed some renovations so that it could house more programs and be a better asset to the community and a better venue for community meetings and community gatherings,” Herring said.
In order to address the concerns of residents and put renovations into motion, CCISCO turned to the city, particularly Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay, for resources. Nine other local and county organizations—including the Richmond Police Department, the Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council and the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts—also partnered with them to provide funds for programs that will be offered at Nevin.
Despite the forecast of rain on Saturday, Nevin’s supporters are anticipating a good turnout from the community when the center re-opens. Planned activities include a march from Macdonald Avenue to Nevin Avenue by the Police Activities League (PAL) to kick off their baseball and tee ball seasons, as well as speeches from local dignitaries, entertainment by the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts and a live raffle drawing including the grand prize of a flat-screen television donated by PAL.
“Last grand opening was kind of giving of the park to the community,” Herring said. “This grand opening is about the building itself, all the renovations that have gone on, and new programs.”
Nightengale agrees the highlight on Saturday will be the addition of new classes and programs. “The main purpose of the event is to prompt new programs that will be taking place after the event,” she said. “The event is to get people excited, registered, and to get people to use the center year-round and not just for special events.”
In the months leading up to Saturday’s reopening celebration, Corral said there has been a noticeable change in the neighborhood. She said she noticed that the level of security improved as police officers began patrolling the center consistently. “Now I walk my kids to school all the time,” Corral said. “We can walk and you feel safe now.”
“If you go to the community center today, you will notice the change is stunning,” Herring agreed. “First, it is clean. There’s no graffiti. There’s no trash; there is no loitering. You will see little children and their parents playing. You’ll see teenagers playing basketball on the court.”
Community organizers like Boyd credit the changes to the Iron Triangle’s residents. “Without the community this would not have happened,” Boyd said. “The crisscross of people was just enough to bring tears to my eyes. Young people, old people, black people, Latinos, and Asians all fighting for the same thing—that’s what makes it all worth it to me.”