Work to begin on Newton Street Community Center

Children who usually get off the school bus and go home to an empty house will soon be able to head for the Newton Street Community Center, were they not only will receive a snack and help with homework, but learn to grow and cook fresh vegetables.

That’s what Neighborhoods Relations Manager Kevin Lindsay and Youth Development Specialist Jermichael Mitchell are hoping for, with the help of Pastor Martin Hutchison.

Hutchison oversees the Community Garden adjacent to the long-unoccupied house purchased by the city. It will be renovated and transformed into the new Community Center.

“I suggested the city buy it. The whole reason was because of what we were doing at the garden. It’s the perfect location to impact the community and that neighborhood,” Hutchison told the Salisbury Independent this week.

“The kids will enjoy it and I think the parents will enjoy it, too. I’m pushing hard for a nice kitchen, to bring in fresh vegetables and teach the kids how to prepare them,” he said, remembering weeding collard greens one day when the father of a neighborhood child stopped to talk.

“I asked him if he liked collard greens and he said he loved them. I got a bag, picked some fresh greens and gave it to him. He said, ‘What the heck do I do with that? My collard greens come in a can,’” Hutchison said.

When he visits local schools, school children regularly associate Hutchison with the Community Garden and he enjoys including them in cultivation chores.

“It’s fun when the kids join you. They don’t work long, maybe 20 minutes, but it’s a wonderful experience,” he said.

Work, scheduled to begin in the next few weeks, will be overseen by Ocean Tower Construction of Ocean City at a cost of about $350,000, according to Mayor Jake Day. The bid was awarded last month.

Mitchell is eager to involve Hutchison.

“It’s vital. Fresh is always better, a lot healthier. With us being an agricultural area, before we started becoming such a city-type situation we were big into farming, big into chicken farms. These community gardens are so important and I would love to see that become part of this Community Center.

“They will have to renovate everything in the house, because it is old, but we’re supposed to have everything up and going by the beginning of the next school year,” Mitchell said.

Work is scheduled to begin in the next few weeks.

“Our Truitt Street Community Center is already open but this one will be set up differently, like a home-type atmosphere,” Lindsay said, adding there’s also a nearby playground.

“We have all these things they can do — cooking, after-school tutoring, a lot of opportunities to do different programming, not like the traditional community center that has basketball courts,” Lindsay said.

Youth in all grades may use the center, he said.

Lindsay said he’d like to have input from the community to determine needs and that families will not be charged. Volunteers will be in place to assist and businesses will be able to rent space.

“Like with the Truitt Street Community Center almost four years ago, we recognized there was a need. For kids that have a lot of idle time, there is summer employment, lacrosse, things like that. We want to reach kids that don’t have opportunities, that might be easily distracted and get into things they shouldn’t get into,” Lindsay said.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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