Author: Jesse Phillips
Author bio: Jesse is a resident of English Avenue, member of EANA and owner of NeuYear.net.
English Avenue is peppered with vacant and abandoned buildings; dozens of houses, corner stores and even some civic buildings stare blankly, slowly decaying. From St. Mark’s church to the majestic English Avenue school. But at the heart of the neighborhood, one vacant building is about to get renovated and re-purposed: the old Headstart building at 740 Kennedy Blvd (Cameron M. Alexander Blvd).
I’ve heard several proposals for this building over the years, from community center, to school, to library, to business incubator and office space. The problem is always the money! Well someone was finally able to do it, the Atlanta Police Foundation has been able to get a grant from the Blank Family Foundation to renovate the building and turn it into the “At-Promise Youth & Community Center.”
I spoke with Karen Rogers, the Community Development Coordinator at APF. She helped me learn more about what the At-Promise Center will be.
The At-Promise Youth and Community Center is an outcome of the Atlanta Police Foundation’s Youth Crime Initiative. It is often said by APD that you can’t arrest your way out of juvenile crime. At-Promise will create pathways to success for youth and has a primary goal of keeping young people out of the criminal justice system. As such, it will specialize in programming for youth 12-21 years old, who reside in Zone 1 (that’s a large area ranging from the Georgia Dome all the way to 285 on the east side) and is expected to serve up to 150 youth the first year.
They hope to address youth crime by focusing on three major areas: “Diversion” – an alternative to arrest and probation, “Intervention” – strategies to address behavior and “Prevention” – to promote and foster personal growth and development.
To implement these 3 major thrusts, the following service providers will run programs at the center: Chris 180 (chris180.org), Urban League of Greater Atlanta (ulgatl.org), Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta (bgcma.org), Street Smart Youth Project (streetsmartyouthproject.org), and the Police Athletic League (atlantapal.com). Exactly what programs they will be doing is, as yet, unclear. But, Karen told me that amenities of the center will include: a computer lab, meeting space, theater room with stage, arts and crafts, team sports and clubs, radio station, music studio, and a garden.
This 17,000 square-foot facility will be transformed into a state-of-the-art space with specialized services for youth and residents focused on educational advancement, mental health, social/emotional learning and workforce development.
As a neighbor very involved in the English Ave Neighborhood Assoc, I’ve been around the development conversations a lot. Some folks oppose this project since it’s not the neighborhood’s first choice for that space, they say the grant money from the Blank Foundation should’ve gone to another local organization. Some have said we don’t want troubled youth from all over Zone 1 to be funneled here, where we have enough crime problems as it is. Others like the idea of police presence at the center of the neighborhood, right next to the major drug activity on the corner. Some folks reason that the At-Promise Center will be much better than a vacant building, and we are promised at least some programming for the neighborhood – possibly even a meeting space for the EANA. I was at the meeting where we reluctantly decided with so few other options and few resources of our own, this is probably our best shot.
What affect this new building will have remains to be seen. May it be positive and beneficial for us all.