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Center makes a big difference in community

August 18, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Dashae Mathis and her friends sought relief from the summer heat in the cool water of the Memorial Recreation Center's pool near downtown Hagerstown.

A United Way-funded agency, the center is a safe haven for children ages 5 to 18. It has offered a variety of recreational and educational programs year-round for more than 30 years, Executive Director Ruth Monroe said.

Up to 20 neighborhood children use the facility at 109 W. North Ave. each day, Monroe said.

"I think the center is very important to this community," she said. "The parents know we're here. The kids know we're here. They know somebody's going to be here to look out for them."

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Dashae and friends like Jalisa Jackson and twins Veronica and Valentina Wheeler walk to the center and spend many hot afternoons swimming, diving and playing pool games such as Marco Polo and Sharks in the Meadow, they said.

"The pool is so fun in the summer and, in the winter, we can come here after school and do our homework," said Dashae, 9, a fifth-grade student at Eastern Elementary School.

The center's Homework Club volunteers "help me with my social studies," Dashae said. "Math is my favorite subject so I don't need much help with that."

Dashae and her friends said they have enjoyed the center's cooking classes, computer room, TV area, library, basketball courts, billiards and Ping-Pong tables, video games and special events.

"There's always things to do here," said Valentina, 13.

"Sometimes, we have splash parties at the pool with a DJ and food and dancing," her sister said.

The center also hosts Christmas parties, Thanksgiving dinners, Easter egg hunts and Girl Scout meetings, Veronica said.

More than 20 children filled the center's large pool on a scorching afternoon last week. Under the watchful eyes of the pool's two lifeguards, children took turns jumping off the diving board, swimming and playing pool games.

Jimmy Meadows, 9, took part in a cannonball contest with Dashae and Jalisa, 13. The trio tried to out-splash each other as they hurled themselves into the water, hugging their knees to their chests.

United Way funds help keep the pool and other recreational activities at the center in operation, Monroe said.

United Way this year allocated more than $21,250 to the Memorial Recreation Center to help pay for recreational activities. United Way cut the small center's educational program funding in fiscal 2001-02 because of lower contributions, Monroe said.

The center depends upon adult volunteers to supervise recreational activities and run the Homework Club - regular members of which were rewarded recently with school supplies - because Monroe can afford to hire only one part-time staff member, she said.

"It's always hard for a small, independent nonprofit agency like ours to get funding," said Monroe, who applies for grants and searches for other new funding sources.

The $1.50 pool admission fee helps pay for lifeguards, she said.

The center is open from 1 to 7 p.m. during the summer months and from 2 to 9 p.m. during the school year.

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