Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Local community center celebrates opening

Published: October 16, 2014
Section: Front Page, News

On Wednesday, Oct. 16, onlookers gathered to view the ceremonial ribbon cutting in celebration of the grand opening of the Prospect Hill Community Center in Waltham. The community center will serve residents of Prospect Hill Terrace, the largest low-income housing development in Waltham. The community center is the result of dedicated partnerships between Brandeis University, Bentley University, administrators and local agencies in Waltham. The center serves as the site of an after-school program organized and led by students from Brandeis and Bentley as of this September.

Upon arrival at the after-school program, children enjoy a snack and then promptly begin their homework. Brandeis students and Bentley students staff tables, organized by grade, to assist and tutor the children. There is an hour allotted for homework time, after which children participate in various enrichment activities, such as educational computer games and multiplication flashcards.

Wednesday’s ribbon cutting ceremony was, in fact, a celebration of the reopening of this community center, which operated for a number of years until the effects of the 2008 recession began to beat down on it. Financially unable to maintain staff and programing costs, the center was forced to close its doors and the building quickly fell to the wayside. Many parents who had been working full time were forced to scale back to part time once the center closed.

In response, Brandeis and Bentley administrators came together avowing to reopen the center. Representatives began the meticulous process of grant writing and raised a sum of over half a million dollars for the renovation and the center. They encountered several articles, such as mold and asbestos.

Last year, students at Brandeis and Bentley became involved in the organization of a comprehensive after-school program for children in first through eighth grade.

Several coordinators were hired to work exclusively on the Prospect Hill project at Brandeis. Lauren Nadeau ’17 is one of these coordinators. Nadeau applied to become a Prospect Hill coordinator last fall, in her first semester on campus. She had met Lucas Malo, the director of community service at Brandeis, during orientation at Volunteerfest. Malo believed that Nadeau would bring a great deal of passion to Prospect Hill project.

Nadeau states, “Our mission with the center is to provide the safest place for kids to go to after school as possible and really enrich that community feel. We want the kids to be able to network with each other in the center, to know each other and just really be inspired by having a college mentor.”

At the start of this year Prospect Hill merged with Kids Club, a Waltham Group program in which volunteers would drive to pick up children in the area and bring them to Brandeis for tutoring and activities. Moving this venture to the Community Center eliminates the hassles of transportation to and from campus.

Jenna Kahane ’15, a coordinator for the Prospect Hill Kids Club, states “For Kids Club we used to buy all the snacks, buy all the activities, plan all the field trips, but here all the games have been bought for us and the center is immaculate.” Kehane became involved with Waltham Kids Club her first semester at Brandeis. Kahane has loved her work with Kids Club and believes the merger with Prospect Hill will enhance the scope of program. The community center is available to around 40 children, whereas Kids Club would typically serve 10 to 12 kids per day.

“Although we were all hesitant to see the way our program used to be leave us, it’s best for the kids to have something like this right outside their door,“ said Kahane.

Nadeau comments on the collaboration with Bentley students, stating “there’s no school affiliation. We’re just the Prospect Hill team.”

Partnerships with the Waltham Police Department, the Waltham Housing Authority and Mayor Jeanette McCarthy’s office were likewise essential to the process of reestablishing the center. The Housing Authority oversees all the low income housing developments in Waltham.

The Housing Authority serves as the liaison between the community and the universities, helping to facilitate the reconstruction of the abandoned building. Furthermore, the Authority oversees maintenance of the center.

Walter McGuire, the executive director of the Waltham Housing Authority spoke at Wednesday’s celebration, proclaiming, “What we have here is a great local project that is the coming together of every facet of our local society.” McGuire believes the center helps to, “improve everyone’s life and help them to be what they can be.”

Officer June Conway is the Police Department’s low-income housing liaison. Before Conway’s time, crime rate in these developments was sky high and the police would receive countless calls each night. But since Conway has begun working with community members, the calls have subsided significantly.

Officer Conway provided valuable training for the coordinators from Brandeis and Bentley. She has counseled them on how to report situations that may arise, such as unauthorized individuals appearing at the center.

McGuire described Conway as “the most driven person you will ever meet when it comes to taking care of our families and our developments.”

The center will also maintain a full-time center director, Linda Pennul. Nadeau explains that Pennul is an instrumental authority figure in the center, stating, “If we have discipline problems with the kids or if something is over our heads in terms of what we can emotionally or physically handle, she is that kind of safety net for us.”

Mayor McCarthy spoke at the ceremony as well, stating, “Today is about families, children, mentors and partners. First of all [the center] is a place for families to have a safe and secure environment for their children to learn, play, eat, you name it, they’ll do it in there.” She then turned around and called to all the children, “You’ve been inside right? What do you think about it?” to which they responded with a resounding chorus of “Awesome!”

The center may be used for a multitude of purposes for the community. For example, the tenants association will likely hold meetings there, and ideally ESL classes and job workshops will be held there. “These programs are still in the planning and vision process, “ said Nadeau, “but that’s where we hope to see the center eventually.”