It started with the hope of saving a beloved old school building. It was built on the dream of regenerating a neighborhood. The vision of a small group of dedicated individuals to bring a decaying community together for the promotion of wellness and connectedness of its citizens is now a robust reality.
The Girard Multi-Generational Center, housed in the old Tod Woods School in the Parkwood neighborhood of Girard, represents what can happen when friends and neighbors work together for a common goal.
In 1999, a core group of people, headed by Carmelo ''Charlie'' Lamancusa, got together to save their school. They convinced the Girard Board of Education to rent the school back to the community for $1 a year for the next 20 years. They worked tirelessly to find grant money for their dream of a community center for all ages, offering classes in wellness, technology and just plain fun.
In February of 2000 Lamancusa was gunned down in the corner grocery store that had been in his family for decades. The neighborhood lost heart that Charlie's dream project would ever be fulfilled but the committee pressed on.
In 2001 they received a grant from the United States Department of Education which allowed them to bring the building up to code and provide handicapped access. A dining room / meeting room, a computer lab, library and adult fitness room were added. The old gymnasium in the building received a facelift too, to ensure safety for children. Yearly memberships were sold to individuals and families.
Since then, with a staff of only five people, the Multi-Generational Center has added activities and classes that rival any similar commercial venture. Under the administrative directorship of Laura Carey-D'Rummo, the center has grown to 1,400 members. It has received software donations from Microsoft Corp. and some financial support from the Trumbull County Office of Elderly Affairs. Head Start classes, which began a year ago, have doubled. A second adult fitness room has been added as well as a distance learning lab. Members can search the web or use the email facilities and have one-on-one computer tutoring. One member communicates by email with her daughter in China.
Administrative Assistant Paulette Kren told me that the center has received phone calls from as far as California inquiring about their start-up.
Program Director Jude Signorello, who holds degrees in nursing and social work, leads exercise and stretching classes, does weekly blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol screenings and oversees ''mind games'' three times a week for senior members.
''I believe it is as important for our seniors to exercise their minds as it is to exercise their bodies,'' she said.
Signorello recently organized a veterans breakfast and is in the midst of planning their annual Holiday Family Fun Night where kids can have their photo taken with Santa.
The center benefits from volunteers from the community but also has ties with Youngstown State University, which provides interns from the gerontology and social work programs. Students from the Girard High robotics team recently demonstrated their skills at the center with Head Start kids and seniors in attendance.
Classes in knitting and crocheting, Tai Chi, yoga, a walking program, a weeklong summer camp for kids, a kids basketball skills camp, a ladies card club and Red Hat Society ladies are just some of the offerings. Jude offers Medicare Assistance sessions for anyone with questions and AARP will provide volunteers to the center for help with taxes.
A holiday potluck luncheon and a family fun night are two of the activities planned for December. A nutritional meal program sponsored by the Trumbull County Office of Elderly Affairs is held Monday through Friday, throughout the year. The center runs a free coffee bar.
A building that could have become a victim of urban blight and decay has arisen from the ashes to become a beacon of community regeneration.
O'Connor is a Brookfield resident.