Protests grow louder over community center closures

Community Center Closing: View from Four Corners from Chris Lovett on Vimeo.

Above: Ralph Ortiz and Pamela Bush of the Greater Four Corners Action Coalition, discussed their opposition to the shut-down of the Marshall Community Center with Chris Lovett, anchor of the Neighborhood Network News on BNN-TV. The interview aired July 8, 2010.

As the Boston Centers for Youth and Families removes staff from eight of the city’s 46 community centers, residents who have grown up around the centers are continuing to protest the move.
 The city agency’s underlying strategy is to save money during fiscal year 2011 by conserving resources that would have gone to underutilized centers.

 “Not much was going on in these centers to begin with,” said BYCF spokeswoman Sandy Holden. “I think that most community members won’t notice a big difference.”

 But many residents say they feel differently.

“The community has responded to the closing but it seems as if [city officials] have just made up their mind,” said Marvin Martin, executive director of Greater Four Corners Action Coalition.

 The coalition was scheduled to host a rally at the Marshall Community Center on Wednesday evening.   The Marshall is one of eight community centers around the city, including the Mattahunt community center in Mattapan, from which the city is eliminating staff. Several Dorchester and Mattapan centers are remaining open, including the Murphy, Holland, Gallivan, Cleveland, Mildred Ave., and the Perkins.

 According to Holden, the BCYF is accepting letters of intent from nonprofit programs which wish to continue in the centers. Some are expected to work with the Boston Public Schools to maintain services.
 Without regular staff, however, community hubs like the Marshall are as good as closed to local kids, say critics.

 “There is not much for kids to do out here…There’s not much for me to do out here,” said 26-year-old Steven Soto, who ran a local basketball program at the Marshall. Now, the Marshall’s court, gyms and other recreational areas are deserted except for a daycare program which continues to run.

 The recently renovated pool area at the Marshall is going unused, in spite of the 100 degree weather. Winston Bennett, 21-year-old longtime user of the center, was a lifeguard.  He says he’s out of a job for the summer.

 “The Marshall is our home,” he said. “We want to stay here.”

 City Councillor Charles Yancey has been voicing resistance to the changes for months.
“It’s wasteful,” he said this week. “With a little work and creativity we could maintain these resources for our city’s youth.”

 The BCYF held public meetings in March concerning community center cutbacks. But residents and community members argue that the process went forward without sufficient community input, echoing arguments of advocates pushing to keep four libraries from getting shuttered.

 “We have yet to see any numbers saying that the Marshall’s attendance was less than that of other community centers,” Martin said. “Why doesn’t the BCYF work with the community?”