Merlene Davis: Saving Charles Young Center the easy part

Many current and former residents of the East End neighborhood near the Charles Young Community Center had reason to celebrate when the Urban County Council voted Dec. 1 to give the center new life.

"The council basically reversed its decision, totally turning around from closing it in 2008," said 1st District Councilman Chris Ford, who spearheaded the rescue. "They did it by being responsive to the community."

Saving Charles Young was a major feat for the folks who endured 14 meetings since March. The Charles Young Community Center Task Force, appointed in February, got lots of public input and then winnowed down all the ideas, dreams and memories that have rooted the center so deeply in the hearts of people who grew up playing and learning there.

The council voted to accept and implement the recommendations of the task force on the future of the center. The city will retain ownership of the building but partner with community organizations to offer activities and programs there. The task force wants those activities and programs to focus on six core values including youth activities, programs for senior citizens, job training and recreation.

With a unanimous vote by council you could almost hear center supporters exhale all the way to New Circle Road.

Relaxation, however, is very premature. The real fight has just begun. An 11-member advisory board will be named by the mayor's office, and, with government approval, that board determines what services are offered and by whom at the center. And you can apply to serve — or suggest someone to serve — on that board if you'd like.

"This advisory board is going to have its challenges," Ford said. "It will involve more than responding appropriately at rallies and forums. It will require some objectivity and the ability to build consensus."

It won't be easy to say no to people who love the center. It also won't be easy to come to a consensus with fellow board members, but that's the nature of the beast.

There are a lot of people who love the center, which was built in the mid-1930s as the first indoor community center for blacks and named for a military officer and leader who was born in Maysville. And a lot of people want it to succeed.

While everyone can have a role in its success, not everyone can play the lead. I think this next phase, what Ford characterizes as the transition from planning to implementation, will be about as warm and fuzzy as a meeting between the parents of a teenage boy and the parents of his pregnant girlfriend.

According to the ordinance, nine of the 11 members will be selected from the community and two will be from government. Although the term will be four years, at the beginning, about six of the board members will serve only two years, to allow for staggered appointment schedules in the future. All of them can be reappointed.

I agree with Ford, who said the board needs to be diverse in age, gender and race.

But members should also be willing to hear new visions.

"There are going to be more folks and programs interested than space," Ford said. "They will be making the best choice overall for the center."

In that regard, members should be ready for some boring, technical meetings that won't be sexy enough to attract media attention.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to discourage anyone from applying. I'd like to see a large number of candidates. But the restoration and rejuvenation of Charles Young will be a marathon, requiring patience and endurance.

Those seeking the warmth of the limelight need to look elsewhere.

The time line is going to be a short one, considering time off for the holidays. Ford said anyone interested in serving on the board should contact the mayor's office or his pretty soon. That way a decision can be made in January or early February as to who will serve.

By spring, the board will be working on the needed repairs at the center.

Carl White, who served on the task force, said he is considering putting his name in the hat to be a board member. He coordinates the annual East End Reunion in the park behind Charles Young, which draws some 1,500 each year. White has memories of playing at the center when he was young.

He wants the center viable again.

"I want to make sure the building is up to code," White said, which would also include updated bathroom facilities in the park and lights for basketball and football games.

Plus, he has heard from people who want to start tutoring programs as well as certified nursing assistant training classes.

"We gained unity with this process, no doubt about that," White said, adding he wanted it to continue.

Ford said he wants that unity to continue as well.

"We've had legislative success we wouldn't have had without the support of the community," he said. "Once we got to the council, there was a sense of unity.

"Now we are going to need the community at large to support the advisory board," he continued. "This is going to be different; it's going to be special."

That's what the center requires and deserves.

So apply at the government Web site if you are interested in serving. If selected, make sure you buckle up.