Norwich youth activities need a home after YMCA and MLK center close

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NORWICH – LaShawn Cunningham, founder of Blooming into Greatness, a nonprofit that gives local children the opportunity to experience the arts, believes there needs to be more mentorship and recreational spaces available for the children of the city.

“They really need a facility that they can call their own,” Cunningham said.

At the July 19 city council meeting, several commented on the state of youth activities in the city. Two of the city’s main youth activity centers, the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and the YMCA of Norwich, have both been long gone, leaving a void.

In response, Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom said Night Flight Basketball and the Police Athletic League, among others, have stepped up to offer activities. Nystrom also highlighted the work of the recreation department serving 2,300 children last year. However, he said that a central hub for activities is needed.

“We have the materials here and the adults are willing to volunteer to work with our young people, but I think there is some truth to it, having a central location, a community center or a community center based in the schools. of town, “Nystrom said.

Opportunities lost with closures

Cunningham, who was at the city council meeting, said it was important to have the Martin Luther King center as a child because the center helped her move away from bullying to the school and nurturing her passion for dancing, as well as other activities like camping and joining the Girl Scouts.

“My mom couldn’t take me camping and do some of these things, but the Martin Luther King Center just provided this for us kids in the neighborhood,” Cunningham said. “Not only that, but also a sense of belonging. You just had somewhere to go.

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Leonard Miller, president of Night Flight Basketball, a summer basketball league, said Norwich was “the leader in youth sports,” between the original incarnation of Night Flight in which Miller played as a child in the 1990s, and other activities.

“We had children from other cities; Franklin, Baltic. These outlying towns would come to Norwich because they knew the kids would have a good experience, ”Miller said. “They had fun, there was good leadership here, but we lost it.”

Summit Fitness and Sports in Norwich Business Park on Thursday. [John Shishmanian/ NorwichBulletin.com]

Summit Fitness a possible solution?

One possibility that Nystrom said the city is considering is to scale up activities in schools in the city or use a remaining school building for a community center. Another possibility is for the city to buy the Summit Fitness and Sports Center, co-owned by husband and wife Henry and Jolene Bowers, and turn it into a community center. Henry Bowers said it would be cheaper than building something new.

Regarding its facilities, Henry Bowers said Summit measures 20,000 square feet over seven acres and can be used for basketball, soccer, lacrosse and even soccer. He also suggested adding a swimming pool.

“Norwich Youth Football has been important over the past year using our facilities. Norwich Youth Soccer and the other football clubs in the region have also used our facilities,” said Henry Bowers.

Paula Novak, 70, from Lebanon, trains on a thigh press on Thursday at Summit Fitness and Sports in Norwich Business Park.  She loves the idea of ​​the city taking Summit Fitness and Sports over and making it a community center, like someone taking their daughter to the YMCA in Norwich to swim.  However, in this hypothetical situation, she would also like there to be activities for seniors.

However, officials are concerned about the transportation needed to reach Summit, which is in the Stanley Israelite Business Park.

“Logistics is a problem,” Nystrom said. “How would you get the kids up there?” They don’t go up that hill to get to the industrial park.

Following:City side: buy the old YMCA building and say “no” to Norwich

Henry Bowers suggested a bus route that runs from schools to the business park, but such a venture might require grants. If Summit were turned into a community center, the city could charge a fee to people outside of Norwich who use it, he said.

Cunningham believes that a community center should be within walking distance or downtown or Greeneville. The business park is too far away, she said.

Without the YMCA, downtown Norwich looks like a “ghost town,” Cunningham said.

While there are still plenty of activities for kids in the city, many, including Blooming into Greatness founder LaShawn Cunningham, said community space was needed to fill the void left by the closing of the YMCA and the MLK Center.

“With the presence of the YMCA, downtown Norwich had so much life.” Cunningham said. “Watching it deteriorate is sad, especially if you grew up in Norwich. “

Nystrom said the city has started the second phase of an environmental assessment of the old YMCA building to check for asbestos and other issues.

The property could still be a location for a community center, but “we still have to figure out the costs to deal with this old building,” he said.

In short :

On August 7 from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Jenkins Park, Blooming into Greatness, Night Flight Basketball and Rose City United will host a Community Water War, a community field day focused on water games. The free event will also include food, a DJ and a documentary on Norwich pastor Devin Johnson.

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