The Center's P.D. Mitchell Living the Dream Community Revitalization Day Saturday attracted a steady stream of people who bought baked goods and had their cars washed at the building's parking lot on Campbell Street.
The event served as a fundraiser for the Center and litter cleanup day for Park Avenue, Memorial Avenue, Little League Boulevard and West Fourth Street, where groups of residents and Center volunteers donned their work gloves to pick up trash.
While passersby will see a physical improvement throughout the Center's surroundings, there's more to this event than meets the eye. The story behind the community's "revitalization day" is one of revitalization in a local man's life.
NATALIE TORENTINOS/Sun-Gazette Correspondent
Elliot Walker, left; Shawn Walker, middle; and Cliff Sweeting were instrumental in organizing the P.D. Mitchell Living the Dream Community Revitalization Day on Saturday at The Campbell Street Center.
NATALIE TORENTINOS/Sun-Gazette Correspondent
Amara Walker washes a car in The Center’s parking lot. The car wash and a baked goods sale were fundraisers for the community center.
It all started with the vision of Elliot Walker, who has sought redemption for past mistakes.
After being incarcerated for seven years, he found the inspiration to improve his life in the late P.D. Mitchell, an important member of the community who touched many lives through his outreach at the Center more than 30 years ago.
"I woke up one morning and said to myself, Mr. Mitchell, I owe you," Walker recalled.
Financial situation looks a bit brighter at The Center
By GREG HAYES
While it isn't back to operating as it once did, The Campbell Street Community Center is doing "better" financially in comparison to the situation it faced last fall.
Lara Schmitt, assistant to the executive director, cautiously admits things are looking a bit brighter, as the organization has stabilized somewhat.
What's helped to steady the organization - which experienced a $95,000 shortfall with the threat of temporary or permanent closure last fall - are funds that came through a grant from the First Community Foundation at the start of the year.
"It was enough to keep us going, (but) it certainly wasn't enough to bring back the people we wanted to bring on again," Schmitt said. "With that money, we were able to keep our doors open, but certainly not to continue as we were in 2009."
As of now, Schmitt said, The Center is awaiting approval on grants the nonprofit applies for each year, namely the Lycoming County United Way's annual allocation, its most significant funding source.
"Without their support, it'd be pretty tough around here," she said.
Since the announcement of its financial crunch in October, The Center has cut two staffing positions and reduced hours of operation to save on expenditures.
"We are only running on a 3 1/2-person staff ... which is, you know, really tough when you think of all the programs we have going on here," she said.
Since the fall, the organization has made no further cuts to its staff or its hours, but its slim staff is receiving supplemental help from outside agencies.
"Fortunately, we have a nice group of people from AmeriCorps that work with us and Experience Works and a nice group of volunteers," Schmitt said. "CareerLink sends people over, as well."
Despite staffing challenges, The Center continues to maintain its well-known youth programs that annually reach more than 5,000 at-risk children between the ages of 5 and 18.
"The programs haven't suffered too much. We've been fortunate in that we have gotten some community support, which has been wonderful," she said. "It's helped us to be able to continue the afterschool program at the level we wanted it to continue."
As things move forward, plenty of upcoming fundraising events are in store to help strengthen the organization's finances, such as a golf tournament starting at 8 a.m. May 15 at White Deer Golf Course and a Mother's Day Brunch.
The city Kiwanis Club is planning a 5K run on June 4 to benefit The Center, as well.
The Center also plans to charge a small fee to help fund its inaugural Summer of Fun program that begins June 21.
Last year, a similar program was available without a cost to the youth because of grants, but Schmitt said "we just can't afford to do it for free now."
In addition, it also hosts programs, such as its Thursday afternoon Vibrant Interactive Program for Seniors, which brings people into the building. While the programs don't necessarily draw in money physically, attendance "helps us with our numbers," Schmitt said.
Just getting people to come to The Center and sign in shows "we are a viable part of this community, (which) helps us with our funding," she added.
For more information on The Center and its programs, or to make a donation, visit www.campbellstreetcenter.org.
Ever since his release last summer, Walker has been working to prevent kids from making the wrong choices.
"I'm on the streets, talking to kids every day about the pitfalls of life," Walker said. "I'm not embarrassed about my past. I'm willing to tell my story."
Walker considers Mitchell the prime example to follow - a person everyone knows had big shoes to fill. A strong presence in the community, Mitchell was ever mindful of building relationships with people and seeing that the neighborhoods were safe and clean.
Walker remembered how Mitchell would show kids the country club and other areas of Grampian Boulevard to inspire a clean neighborhood. He hopes to pass this lesson on to present day youngsters.
Melodie Russell, executive director of the Center, took Walker - and his ideas for improving the community - under her wing.
"He's turned his life around and now he wants to give back. To me, that's very powerful," Russell said. "It's a message and lesson to young people that they don't have to go down the wrong path to realize what community is all about. I would hope that they see him as an example. You don't have to destroy yourself to find out you're a good person."
Russell explained that when Elliot came to her with the idea for a cleanup day, she thought it was a great way to unify the neighborhood. Many residents tend to keep to themselves, she said. But efforts like this will help minimize the appearance of division.
"What a good way to get people to come out. It's all for a great cause. The center is the heartbeat of the community."
Walker's brother, Shawn, worked to spread news of the neighborhood clean-up to churches and businesses since the project was first spearheaded in February.
Like everyone else, Shawn looked up to Mitchell growing up.
"I was young, but I watched him do certain things," Shawn said. "It carries on from generation to generation. There was a warmness about him."
Cliff Sweeting, Elliot's cousin, didn't know Mitchell personally, but always knew of his legacy. He participated in after-school programs at the Center, which Mitchell had helped organize.
"He definitely stood for unity, and we're trying to manifest that," Sweeting said. "What we're seeing is a diminishing in old-school morals and values. We want to reverse that."
"We hope this becomes contagious for the community and for Williamsport," he said. "It's sending out a message that change starts within."
The Center's next major fundraiser is an 18-hole golf tournament on May 15 at the White Deer Golf Course.
For more information, call 322-5515 or visit the website online at www.campbellstreetcenter.org.