Not just for kids anymore: Chattanooga's recreation centers becoming family hubs

Not just for kids anymore: Chattanooga's recreation centers becoming family hubs

June 30th, 2013 by Cliff Hightower in Local Regional News

Addison Wellington, 9, looks over Xavier Cummings' arm as he helps with a math problem at the Glenwood Community Center on Thursday. Educational activities are being put in place at community centers along with the traditional sports and games.

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

NEW FOCUS

The city's Youth and Family Development Centers soon will start focusing on five aspects:

• Education

• Career development

• Leadership and character building

• Recreation

• Social services

Source: Chattanooga

Sydney Pipes, left, along with McKenzie Glaze, reads The Magic School Bus to a group of 6 to 8-year-olds at the Glenwood Community Center on Thursday. Educational actives are being put in place at community centers along with the traditional athletic activities.

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

Shooting basketballs and swimming used to be the standard for Chattanooga's recreation centers.

Parents could drop off the children and the kids could have some fun.

But that's changing.

"We think recreation and playing sports is important to a child's development," said Lurone Jennings, administrator for Chattanooga's Youth and Family Development Department. "But we think academics is more important."

The city's 18 community or recreation centers have been renamed youth and family development centers and will start reflecting those changes in the coming months, Jennings said.

Within six months to a year, the centers will start changing to reflect the goals of the new administration of Mayor Andy Berke, who took office three months ago.

Recreation still will be included in the plans, Jennings said, but it won't be the emphasis.

"We just can't dedicate our entire summer to recreation," he said.

The city's emphasis will rest on five points: education, career development, leadership and character building, recreation and social services.

The education portion already has been unveiled, with a literacy computer program that will be going into all centers in coming months.

Jennings said the leadership building will happen within the education and recreation elements of the centers.

The city's social services division is now under the Youth and Family Development Department, so there will be more marketing in the centers to educate the public about these services.

The one aspect city administrators are still trying to flesh out more is career development, Jennings said.

He said there could be jobs fairs and perhaps partnerships with employers.

"We haven't committed to specifics yet," he said.

Combined, all of these areas create a way the city can reach out and help families toward upward mobility, Jennings said. The centers aren't just for kids anymore. They are for the family.

"We're trying to wrap around all of these services to help the family lift themselves up," Jennings said.

Berke has emphasized the city taking a role as a player in the education business.

The city's youth and family development centers provide a tool and a way the city can enter into that role since many of the city's children immediately head to the centers after the school day ends.

Jennings said city officials see that and are striving to create partnerships with the Hamilton County Department of Education. He said the city is also reaching out to area churches, which also play a large role in the education and development of children.

"We can only do so much," Jennings said.

James Moreland, a community leader, said the time is now for changes to start happening within the old recreation centers. He said he is a strong supporter of more education for children at the centers.

"If that's where they are going let's figure out how to enhance their education rather than just let them play," he said.

He said he would support tutors also being at the centers, along with older mentors. The centers, schools and community associations all have to work together, he said.

"We have to have a mixture," Moreland said.

Charlotte Anderson, who lives in Churchville, said her three grandchildren she cares for full time go to the centers. They have participated in summer programs at Carver Recreational Center and attended reading programs.

She said there's no doubt in her mind there needs to be more emphasis on things other than recreation.

"I think there needs to be a change," she said. "There needs to be more educational programs rather than just a place for them going to the pool."

Staff writer Yolanda Putman contributed to this report.

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him at twitter.com/cliffhightower or facebook.com/cliff.hightower.