Stanton Center honored for its service to the community

Annapolis site marks anniversary of renovation

July 08, 2005|By Grant Huang | Grant Huang,SUN STAFF

The Stanton Community Center on West Washington Street in Annapolis was once home to the county's first school for African-American children. Now, it's a pillar of a local community.

Within its walls, parents find low-cost summer programs for their children, and troubled youths find counselors ready to listen. Drug addicts get second chances and sick people without health insurance get medical care from some of the area's best doctors. Much of it is free.

Services are provided by separate organizations all housed under the Stanton Center's roof; nearly all members of the different staffs are volunteers.

Local officials will recognize the Stanton Center's contributions to the community tomorrow, when the center celebrates its fifth anniversary since being heavily renovated in 2000.

The all-day, block-party style event will include remarks by Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Annapolis Alderwoman Sheila M. Tolliver.

A nondescript brick building tucked away in an underprivileged neighborhood just blocks from the picturesque maritime charm of Annapolis' historic district, the center represents a blend of history and present-day practicality.

Rows of black-and-white photos of local African-American history, donated by the Smithsonian Institution, line the stairwells.

The original building, named in honor of War Secretary Edwin Stanton, was erected at the end of the Civil War in 1865 and became the first elementary school to serve the county's black residents.

The building standing today was built in 1898 and served as a high school for black students until it was closed in 1964, when public schools were integrated.

It became a community center in 1974, though its services were limited until after the 2000 renovation, said Kirby J. McKinney, executive director.

"They didn't even have an executive director until then," he said. "Before, all the organizations providing services here just did their own thing - nobody talked to each other, nobody coordinated, nobody did bookkeeping."

Now however, the organizations meet once a month to share plans and resources while he has become the center's "coordinator and motivator."

While the city owns the building and gives grants to help defray operating costs, securing funds to keep the center running is one of the biggest challenges he faces, McKinney said. To raise money, he rents out the center's facilities, including meeting space and the gym.

The city also funds the center's day care and summer camp programs, which are staffed by employees from the city Department of Recreation and Parks.

"You can't put a price on the importance of it," said George Belt, a recreation leader. "It gets the kids off the streets, gives them structure and keeps them away from negative lifestyles."

Faye Anderson, a nurse by training, is the coordinator of outreach services for the Annapolis Outreach Center, the free clinic attached to Stanton Center.

On the second floor of the center, Anderson took a patient's temperature and blood pressure.

"The cases we see run the gamut from sore throats to us having to call 911 because a patient's having a cardiac arrest," Anderson said. Her position is one of two paid full-time positions at the clinic.

The other belongs to Sarah Callanan, a nurse practitioner who coordinates the clinic's stable of more than 100 visiting physicians. Though the clinic has established operating hours, it depends largely on volunteer hours from those physicians, all of whom have full-time practices in the area.

"For so many of Annapolis' best doctors to take their time and come in here, for free, it's just ... amazing," Callanan said. The clinic is equipped to handle general medical treatment, but Anderson has developed strong relationships with county hospitals.

"Thanks to Faye, we are able to refer patients that need serious treatment to a hospital," Callanan said.

Because none of the patients has health insurance, many were already in extremely serious condition, she said.

"I think the most heartbreaking thing is people who found out about us too late," she said.

Further complicating treatment is the fact that many patients are Hispanic immigrants who don't speak English. The center has found volunteer Spanish-speakers to translate, Anderson said.

On Tuesdays, the busiest day, the clinic has as many as 30 patients at a time. With only three exam rooms and a waiting room that seats 10, the line often goes out the door, she said.

"You go home tired," said Barbara Lamartin, a native Spanish speaker who has been volunteering as a translator since 2002. "Tired, but happy -very happy."

Director McKinney said that while he was pleased with the number of visitors his center gets, local residents need to play a more assertive role in helping to build their community.

"They need to take ownership of it," he said. "That's ownership meaning you take care of each other and as long as you live here, this place is yours."

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