Ex-policeman takes helm at Hagerstown rec center without pay

October 15, 2007|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN - A retired police officer has stepped in to run the Memorial Recreation Center without pay after the organization was forced to cut its executive director's salary in August, board members said.

Robert Petties has been putting in six or seven hours a day to keep the recreational, educational and social activities running at the 109 W. North St. youth center since its previous director, Kim Buchanan, left to take another job Sept. 6, said Gary Graves, board vice president.

The organization took a serious financial cut when its application for money from the Washington County Gaming Fund was turned down this year, Petties said. Most years, the center receives about $20,000 from the fund, which collects money from tip jar operations and distributes it to nonprofit organizations each August, gaming office director James Hovis said. Hovis said gaming commissioners allocate the fund each year based on the merits of the applications, but he could not say why the commission denied Memorial Rec's application this year.


Last fiscal year, the center got $40,000 from the fund, a third of its $120,000 general operating budget for day-to-day operations, utilities and salaries, Graves said. Besides Petties, the center has two full-time staff members, he said.

The center is attempting to fill the hole with a fundraising campaign directed at local businesses, churches and individuals, Graves said. So far, the center has raised $5,000 toward a goal of $50,000, and if the campaign goes well, the center might be able to hire a paid director by this time next year, Graves said.

Buchanan, who was hired in June 2006 after the death of longtime director Ruth Ann Monroe, took a job with the Community Action Council, a Washington County organization that provides services to the poor, Graves said.

Meanwhile, Petties said he is happy to donate his time. He joined the center's board this spring when a friend from church asked him if he would be interested.

"I decided it was a chance to try to make a difference," Petties said. "I come from a law enforcement background, so I know how important our youth are, and I've seen the pitfalls that sometimes they fall in."

For the most part, having a volunteer director will keep the center's budget troubles from limiting operations, Graves said. For now, the center will remain open five days a week, and many recent improvements, including a computer lab, reading program and renovation project, already have been paid for, he said.

County funding earmarked for pool operation and maintenance will allow the center to move forward with a $30,000 project to repair a leak in the center's pool before it is scheduled to reopen next summer, Graves said. A summer program that uses the center each year is funded by the City of Hagerstown, he said.

"We're trying faithfully to not only continue on the path we're going on, but we're hoping to improve and get more programs," Petties said.

The center is in the negotiating stage for a new program for teens, he said.

Graves said he thought the center made substantial progress over the past year.

"From a program standpoint, there's more going on than there was a year ago," he said. "Our main challenge now is how to raise more money."

The center is sponsoring an "oldies-but-goodies" dance for ages 25 and older at the Martin Luther King Center at 9 p.m. Saturday, Graves said. Tickets cost $10 and proceeds will go to support the center, he said.

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