Published in the Star-Ledger, Wednesday, November 28, 2007
In Elizabethport, a new facility for an old friend
Presbyterian Center breaks ground on $4.1M building
BY JONATHAN CASIANO
As a child growing up in Elizabeth, Lamar Grady was a "Pres kid."
He attended preschool at the Elizabethport Presbyterian Center, partied there as a teenager and was awarded a college scholarship by the center when he graduated high school.
Now a father and local businessman, Grady's two sons attend the center's summer camp, not to mention his grandmother, who relies on "the Pres" for its senior services, or his cousin, who is one of the center's 55 employees.
"Everybody down here comes through the Pres," said Grady. "The Pres gave many of us a window of opportunity to enjoy our lives stress-free while growing up in this neighborhood."
Yesterday, Grady joined the crowd gathered on First Street to celebrate the groundbreaking of a new Elizabethport Presbyterian Center, a $4.1 million, 27,000-square-foot building that will replace the deteriorating structure the nonprofit organization has occupied since its founding more than 40 years ago. When complete, the new building will be a full five times larger than the current building and better suited for the center's ever-growing list of offerings.
"Our program has expanded so much, we simply don't have enough room to provide all the services that are needed on a daily basis," said Executive Director Rod Spearman.
"I'm so excited I could almost sing," said Rev. Russell Block, chairman of the Elizabethport Presbyterian Center's board.
Started in 1965 by members of the Presbyterian Church concerned about the lack of jobs and social services in the Elizabethport neighborhood, Elizabethport Presbyterian has evolved into a one-stop community anchor offering day care, after-school care, tutoring, job training, parenting classes, computer classes, record expungement for ex-offenders, senior services and a food pantry. In the mid-1980s, the center's board of directors spun off another nonprofit organization, Brand New Day, which has been a driving force behind the construction of new affordable housing in the area.
Spearman said the center currently serves some 1,500 people each year, from kids who come in every day after school to seniors who come in once a year for Thanksgiving dinner.
"Every community needs a center and this is going to be the heart and soul, just as it's been since 1965, of this growing and thriving community," said State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), at yesterday's event.
Funded primarily through private donations, state tax credits and city grants, the new Elizabethport Presbyterian Center will feature six classrooms, an indoor playground, computer education center, community rooms and administrative offices.
The old two-story building will be demolished within the next three weeks, said Spearman, after which construction of the new building will begin in earnest. It is expected to open its doors in June 2009. In the meantime, the center's programs will operate out of three temporary sites in the neighborhood, Spearman said.
Officials at the groundbreaking lauded the new center as yet another sign of the city's ongoing effort to revitalize Elizabethport. Long one of the city's most impoverished neighborhoods, Elizabethport has witnessed tremendous changes in recent years, from new housing on the waterfront to a variety of new businesses on its main avenues.
In recent weeks, the community has been shaken by a rash of gun violence, notably the shooting death of 13-year-old Elijah Henderson as he rode his bike on nearby Fulton Street, and the shooting of a 54-year-old Brazilian immigrant two days later.
But yesterday's groundbreaking seemed to renew the hope that's been percolating in the Port.
"This new building will have coming from within its walls many new sounds from the people's lives we touch," said former center director Rev. Joseph Garlic. "It's going to be a beautiful building."
Online story here. Archived here.
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.