Taking Recreation Away From the Youth of Baltimore

Taking Recreation Away From the Youth of Baltimore

The Allentown community in Baltimore city held a New Orleans-style "funeral march" to protest the closing of the rec centers on August 10, 2012. Photo by Alana Smith.
The Allentown community in Baltimore city held a New Orleans-style "funeral march" to protest the closing of the rec centers on August 10, 2012. Photo by Alana Smith.

Groups of young men crowd around sidewalks. Cars come and then speed off.

Just a block over, a woman sits and guards what has become known as one of the biggest habitual drug houses in the area. With the blinds shut on all the windows, she sits and looks forward, not aware of the elementary school and recreation center just in front of her.

Just a few houses over, Stefon Scott lives with his sisters who attend Parkview Recreation Center. Scott used to attend the school that is connected to the center.

“I don’t think they should take it away,” he said. “If they do, more kids will be in more trouble.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake chose to close four centers in West Baltimore; all were about two miles from one another. Parkview was named one of the centers to be shut down at the end of summer, along with Crispus Attucks, Central Rosemont, and Harlem Park.

But Parkview remains in use, unlike the others.

“I hope they don’t close it down,” Kim Hall, grandmother and caretaker to a boy that goes to the after school program, said. “It’s good and keeps the kids off the streets.”

While Hall said she agrees that the center needs to be upgraded, she would have trouble with even a temporary closing for renovation.

“I’d have to rearrange my whole work schedule to get him to a center further away,” she said.

In 2010, Rawlings-Blake created a task force to evaluate the effectiveness of recreation centers in Baltimore and to define the model center. This is what she would base her decision off of.

According to the report, the ideal center would be 15,000 to 20,000 square feet in size and include several areas: lobby, gym, computer room, kitchen, arts and crafts, staff office, multipurpose room, aerobics room, game room, weight/fitness room, meeting room, outdoor space, fields and storage. It also recommends that the model center provide the community with programs like after school care, nature, holiday and summer camps, sports leagues, instructional classes, cultural arts, youth councils, special events, fitness instruction, and rentals.

But what matters more than the actual building itself is the support and structure that the programs provide the children in West Baltimore, according to former teacher Edward Gillespie.

“They’re not getting stability, they’re not getting structure at home,” he said. “Kids don’t have those sort of elemental things.”

Gillespie also teaches martial arts to kids at another Baltimore recreation center and said that martial arts gives them the structure and discipline that they need but aren’t getting from home.

“I already saw them forming with various lifestyles,” he said.

Gillespie had a supportive family growing up and his school had all the programs that recreation centers provide. He said in Baltimore the schools don’t provide those basic things, and if recreation centers are taken away, children will be missing them.

According to the Mayor’s plan, they are trying to have fewer centers serving a greater population. But if the centers aren’t as close and accessible, it’s hard to say whether they’ll truly be more efficient in comparison to the centers that are being shut down.

The plan states that by creating larger facilities and hiring more people, the city could save up to $11 million. As of now more than half of the existing centers are less than 5,000 square feet.

“Having a large inventory of relatively small centers creates inefficiencies in utilization rates, staffing shortages and, ultimately, much higher operational costs,” the report states. “At the same time, smaller centers also limit the type of activities and programs that can occur.”

The city will be using $19 million for new facility investments and building three new centers, renovating one and enhancing up to 18 others. The new facilities will include Cherry Hill, Morrell Park, Clifton Park, and Patterson Park.

While teaching, a fellow faculty member once told Gillespie that the City is just warehousing the children until they’re ready for jail.

“Their culture has them set for jail,” he said to Gillespie. “There’s a character of chaos. People think they are more important than an overarching dynamic.”

The surrounding area of Parkview and the centers that closed were well known as some of the worst parts of the city, and even the country. Yet the children are literally surrounded by crime and drugs.

Gillespie, now a Baltimore City Police officer, points out the people coming into the school to pick up their children—people who appear to be on drugs and who were outside the center earlier.

Scott agrees that the center provides a safe haven and a good example for children.

“It’s really easy to do something negative if you see something negative,” he said. “It’s not right [if the center closes].”

Brandi Bottalico is currently a junior at Towson University and studies journalism and public relations. She is the associate news editor for the campus newspaper The Towerlight. Bottalico has been published on the Washington Post education blog by Valerie Strauss. Before attending Towson, she lived in Prince George's County, did several Washington Post workshops and participated in many journalism conferences. Outside of writing and editing she is interested in photography and film. After graduation Bottalico hopes to receive a job in journalism.