Rec creation

By reopening youth center, Anthony closes sad chapter

December 15, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

One afternoon last January, Jennifer Williams got an unwelcome call at her job at a downtown state office building. Her two sons, Aaron and Derrick Allen, were in the rental office at the Pleasant View Gardens city housing complex, instead of at the nearby Boys and Girls Club on East Fayette Street, their usual after-school destination. The club had run out of money during Christmas break, she was told, and had closed.

She left work, picked up her boys and brought them to work with her. She did that at the end of every day for the rest of the school year. It was better than the alternative, but the kids weren't quite as entertained at their mother's office as at the Boys and Girls Club. "It was boring," said Aaron, 9.

He's not bored anymore. The club reopened yesterday under new management, showing off the redecorated gym with the murals on the walls and Nike logos on the court, as well as the computer lab, the dance studio, the rooms for arts and crafts and music lessons and study halls, to name just a few of the amenities.

For the benefactor who put up the money and guided the revival of the center - now the Carmelo Anthony Youth Development Center - Williams said, "I have no words to say but `thank you.'"

The donor was similarly tongue-tied. Part of that was because he was worn out - he had played the second of back-to-back games the night before, a loss in Washington by his Denver Nuggets, and was due to rejoin his teammates in Boston for the first of two more back-to-back games tonight.

But he wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else. One reason - and the big reason the project was so important to him - was that he went through exactly what the youngsters had, when he was a teenager.

"They took my rec center from me," he told the crowd in the gym. "I had nowhere to go."

"Someone just said it was closed, and it was gone, for three years. That's what I had in mind," he recalled later, as he handed out bags of presents for the youngsters lined up on the court, doing more gift-giving than Santa Claus, who was standing nearby.

As for a savior - the kind he was being yesterday - "we didn't have anybody," he said.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Anthony is the club's savior. When the Boys and Girls Club shut down last December and was left empty for nearly a year - for much of that time with the sign still up over the door, practically taunting its former patrons - the city, community and the Living Classrooms Foundation scuffled along looking for resources to reopen it. It would take a financial commitment by someone or a group of contributors for a minimum of three years, organizers said.

At the same time, Anthony was trying to fulfill the promise he had made to himself as a rookie to build a rec center, ideally in his West Baltimore neighborhood. But it appeared that building one from the ground up would take three to five years, escalating funds and endless bureaucratic red tape.

"We were looking for each other," said Valencia Warnock, director of the Boys and Girls Club when it closed and now director of the new center. Warnock was the one who made the fateful calls to the parents last year.

Anthony and his charitable foundation saw the chance to get a rec center started right away, and the decision to kick in $1.5 million - about 90 percent of the needed funding for five years, not just the requested three - was easy.

He then got Nike involved - he is one of the featured endorsers of Brand Jordan, whose logos adorn the court - and the result was the resurrected beauty on display yesterday. It had everybody, from the once-displaced kids spread all over the gym floor, to the lineup of local dignitaries, gushing over him.

"It's easy to make it and go away and forget," said Bernard "Jack" Young, who represents the city council district in which the center is located. "You should be clapping for him. He didn't have to do this."

In Anthony's mind, though, he did have to do it, and he believed that long before most of the country had concluded that his image, created during one disruptive summer two years ago when he was 20, needed some sort of reconstruction. He still has plans to expand his "HOOD (Holding Our Own Destiny) Movement" basketball tournament and festival to other cities in the near future, and he still is involved with Johns Hopkins Hospital officials and their anti-gun violence initiatives.

He is drawing others to him to help him get his plans off the ground. He also still hopes other athletes from the area join him.

"I think somebody might step up," he said. "But right now, not yet." He was still passing out goodie bags, the lines got longer and longer, and time to fly to Boston was approaching.

"I'm tired," he said. "But I'm having fun, I'll tell you that."

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