Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake officially handed over the city’s Brooklyn O’Malley Recreation Center to the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Baltimore in a ribbon-cutting ceremony Dec. 3.

The center, located in the Brooklyn section of South Baltimore, was the first of two centers to evolve from city-owned to private, non-profit control in December as part of the Mayor’s Recreation Center Task Force Plan.

“We had to rethink our approach to recreation,” said Rawlings-Blake, addressing the many smiling faces of center attendees, parents, and staff.

“We developed a plan that includes nearly $20 million in city investment to create four new community centers- which are more than just recreation centers.”

The plan, set into motion in 2011, is slated for completion by 2015 and includes the four new facilities that will have programming for the entire community, not just school-age children. The task force also decided to upgrade and expand ten of the city’s recreation centers while adding more hours, staff, and programming to another 16 locations.

Eight centers faced the chopping block during budget negotiations for the 2013 fiscal year. In August four centers across neighborhoods in West Baltimore and other parts of the city closed even as council members and community leaders, outraged, spoke out and marched in protest.

Baltimore City Council President Jack Young proposed a budget plan would have allowed every recreation centers to stay open alongside the larger community mega-centers and renovated facilities.

Of the two centers transitioned this week, the Brooklyn O’Malley was slated for closure.

The second center, Easterwood, hadn’t been open for children in three years.
Easterwood is now owned by the Omega Baltimore Foundation, an organization operated by the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

“The non-profits working with us have a track record of providing opportunities for young people,” said the Rawlings-Blake, surrounded by the laughter of Baltimore’s brightest. “My goal was to have programming that fills the center. This is full center with a diverse group of kids that love being here.

As a result of the change, benefits previously unavailable to the students under the Department of Recreation and Parks are now more accessible.

“It has been an opportunity for us to reach more kids in the Brooklyn area and provide more services for their families,” said Ken Darden, President and CEO Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Baltimore. “We’re able to offer quite a bit more.”
“We do youth development- not just recreation. We have more staff, volunteers, and we’re open after school until 8 o’clock.”

The organization took over the site in July 2012. Programming for the roughly 80 children who attend daily began in September of this year.

The 7,500 square foot building serves an average of 100 children total. A lab offers space to do homework and build computer literacy, while multipurpose rooms and a dance studio offer healthy alternatives such as athletics and stage performance.

Parent Sabrina Johnson, 43, said she has noticed a dramatic change at the center Brooklyn neighborhood.

“Since the Boys and Girls Club took over, membership has grown tremendously. They do more with the kids and they have a lot of fun,” said Johnson. “My girls are in dance and enjoy the arts and crafts classes. There’s so much that they do and they come everyday.”

Johnson has three daughters and one grandson who attend programming at the facility and said she the expanded hours give more flexibility to working parents.
The Brooklyn O’Malley center now also has preventative measures in place to fight youth engagement in gangs with it’s Targeted Outreach programming. Drug, alcohol and teen pregnancy prevention resources are also a part of the programs offered.

Darden said the city continues to work with the centers that have transitioned.
Ernest W. Burkeen, Jr. was named director of recreation and parks on Nov. 27 and takes the position over from acting director Bill Vondrasek. Burkeen’s appointment, which comes after honing skills in major cities such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Detroit, will become effective Dec. 17. 


Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer