The renovated recreation center in the middle of Hollander Ridge in Northeast Baltimore represents safety for Chantelle Johnson.
Now, instead of encountering danger while hanging out on the streets, this 15-year-old street-wise youth is likely to put his energies into a game of 8-ball, a property battle on the Monopoly board or John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men."
"It keeps us out of the streets so we can have a place where we belong," Chantelle said, leaning on a pool table in the recreation center. "If we are on the streets, we could get shot. But in here, we wouldn't."
Yesterday, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, community leaders and city housing officials officially dedicated the two-story Hollander Ridge Multi-Purpose Center, the formal name for Chantelle's new hangout.
For about two years, the graffiti-laden building stood abandoned, the victim of fiscal constraints that led the city to close several centers.
The building once was the hub of the isolated 1,000-unit complex of apartments and townhouses near the city line. It's back now. ** And residents are thankful.
"This building has so much to offer," said Rosalie Hayes, 57, president of the Hollander Ridge Tenant Council.
"This place had been going to waste for about two years," Ms. Hayes said. "Why just let it sit here and rot and not do anything?"
So she and other residents took the initiative several months ago. After persistent phone calls and letters, they got help from the mayor and the Baltimore Community Foundation in the form of two $10,000 grants to reopen the center.
Some of the money was used to buy games, books, athletic equipment and a variety of other items for the recreation program. Residents will staff family support, education and job referral services and will provide counseling sessions on AIDS, drug abuse prevention and teen-age pregnancy.
The city housing authority installed new doors and windows, painted the interior, equipped the second-floor gym and renovated the center's kitchen.
Odessa Hampton, assistant project director of the foundation's Neighborhood Small Grants Program, said the desire shown by residents to improve their close-knit community proved that the center would be a good project in which to invest.
"They're so isolated out there that they tend to be forgotten," Ms. Hampton said. "Rosalie opened that up."
"Sometimes just a new look is all a community needs to get it motivated and to keep it going," she said.
Deborah Courtney, family support coordinator for the housing authority, said the center provides a place where residents can address their concerns and organize themselves.