Families welcome reopened community center|
Children enjoy swim lessons in the recently reopened North Rampart Community Center. Work teams coordinated by the United Methodist Committee on Relief restored the New Orleans center after it was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29, 2005. UMNS photos by Betty Backstrom.
By Betty Backstrom*
Aug. 29, 2007 | NEW ORLEANS (UMNS)
When Sheryl Coleman saw Coach Jeffery Parker’s car parked in front of the North Rampart Community Center, she did a U-turn and drove back to ask if it was reopening.
"She wanted to know about summer camp. 'Would we be open this summer?'" said Parker, the center's activities coordinator.
Parents like Coleman — who have returned to New Orleans to begin anew in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — are in search of programs like those at North Rampart Community Center, formerly known as St. Mark’s Community Center, which closed after the deadly hurricane season of 2005.
"These families need the familiarity of something that was here before the hurricane. They want a sense of normalcy in a world that is still not normal," said Parker, adding that most children served by the center come from single-parent homes.
"Many times, Mom is working two or three jobs to support her family. The parents trust us and are very comfortable with their children being here all day."
A new start
The summer school program reopened in 2007 with a grant through the United Methodist Women’s Division.
Coach Jeffery Parker and camper
Christie Coleman share smiles during summer camp.
The Rev. Darryl Tate, board president for the newly incorporated center, said plans are in place to resume an after-school program beginning this fall.
"There is a new working board of six people consisting of members of the community, members of United Methodist Women and representatives from the Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference and St. Mark’s and Bethany United Methodist churches," said Tate. An executive director is being sought.
Over the summer, the center accommodated 50 children who swam, sang, painted and worked on computers. A waiting list had 27 children. "I would have liked to accommodate 100 children, but funding is an issue," said Parker.
Sixth-grader Christie Coleman was happy to be back. Like so many of her friends, she evacuated the city when the storm struck.
"I really missed my grandmother while we were gone. I wanted to come back and see how things were going," she said. "At the beginning, when I watched TV and saw people dying, I was very sad. My mom actually saw some of her students and co-workers walking on the bridge trying to leave. We were all crying."
Cleaning up, fixing up
The North Rampart Community Center suffered significant wind damage from Katrina. Work teams coordinated by the United Methodist Committee on Relief came from all over the world came to restore the center’s pool, install a new kitchen and refinish the gymnasium floor.
Betty Shirley leads a summer art class at the camp attended by 50 children.
"This building was erected in 1928. Honestly, even pre-Katrina, the building was in dire need of repair," Parker said of the property owned by the Women's Division.
Visiting work teams also retro-fitted existing rooms to serve as dormitories for future work teams, building bunk beds for 30 people and installing additional showers.
The Women’s Division is also leasing space at the center to accommodate rooms used by the UMCOR-supported Louisiana United Methodist Disaster Recovery Ministry.
Parker knows the importance of the after-school program to the long-term education of local children. "We are keeping our kids on track to graduate from high school. And the impressive statistic is that a number of them have gone on to college. This program keeps them in school."
He emphasizes that North Rampart is ready to serve.
"We are here, able and willing. But we need funds to run programs. Any assistance allows us to have more kids in the camp. We are a very successful, well-organized camp with a specific mission … to advance the skills and knowledge of these children so that we may uplift their lives and help them to be successful."
*Backstrom is editor of Louisiana Now!, the newspaper of Louisiana Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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