Sorority's 12-year effort bears fruit as community center opens

September 18, 2000|By Donna M. Owens | Donna M. Owens,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Hoping to breathe new life into an abandoned former auto parts store and a vacant lot in West Baltimore, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. opened yesterday a multi-purpose community center --which they hope will have a healing impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

The Ivy Family Support Center, named for the plant that serves as a symbol of the sorority, is located at 3515 Dolfield Ave.

Yesterday's ribbon-cutting was the culmination of more than 12 years of planning by sorority members. About 300 sorority members, accompanied by a bevy of elected officials and representatives of civic organizations, attended the opening of the $1.6 million facility.

The 17,000-square-foot center will provide a place to combat social problems like illiteracy, substance abuse, unemployment and homelessness, members said.

"Our dream was to have a place for programs that deal with educa-tion, the black family, cultural arts, economic development and health," said Nancy Bennett, president of the Epsilon Omega chapter of Atpha Kappa Alpha, an international service organization for African-American women founded in 1908. The center has more than a dozen rooms and offices, including a library, computer center, multi-purpose room and classrooms.

The classrooms will be used for after-school programs and tutoring. Sorority members say those programs will be offered through a partnership with nearby Ashburton Elementary School and Harlem Park Middle School. The center is equipped with a kitchen and will be available to be rented for parties and other events.

The local Epsilon Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha has nearly 300 members. It raised an initial $100,000 for the center, then turned to city and state government for additional funding. Baltimore housing officials sold the building at Dolfield and Belle avenues to the sorority for $1 and provided an additional $400,000 for the center. The state contributed $800,000.

You have done something visible and tangible in the community,'' said state Sen. Clarence W. Blount, who helped shepherd bond bills for the center through the legislature. "I suggest the rest of the block will take on new life."

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