SAGINAW, MI – Eight-year-old Asia Pratt was sitting breathlessly laughing next to her friends during a break as she jumped inside the inflatable house set up for an event reconnecting a neighborhood in Saginaw on the south side with an old community center ready to reopen in the coming month.
“I feel very happy,” she said of the celebration going on outside the facility at 3145 Russell. “It was so much fun. I can’t wait to be able to go here.
Organizers say the building – known as “The Nabe” – will likely not open to the community until 2022, but the excitement surrounding the news warranted some sort of block party on Saturday, August 28. The rally included The Nabe’s future target demographic. : Pratt and children his age.
Pratt plans to be the third generation in his family to run and play inside the facility when it reopens. Her father, Michael Pratt, 50, was part of a group of nine adults who formed a non-profit organization and bought the community center where they once played as children.
The Saturday celebration also catered to its demographic age. A DJ played Rick James; Earth, Wind and Fire; Kool and the Gang and other old hitmakers.
Still, the rally seemed to remain focused on the future: more specifically, The Nabe’s potential for the South Side neighborhood that has become largely desolate over the past two decades. Organizers say they hope when the community center reopens it will help revive the area and provide a place to grow up for children living nearby.
Leola Gochett, 80, moved to the South Side neighborhood in December 1970. Her three children spent their youth at The Nabe, known for decades as the Lutheran Charities Neighborhood House Community Center. After several changes of ownership, the building has remained largely unused in recent years, after decades of declining participation.
Gochett said she was delighted to hear that former attendees are planning to resuscitate the community center. She has known the nine members of the association since they played there when they were children.
“I believe in them,” said Gochett, who attended the celebration on Saturday. “This community needs this, to help us get back to the way things were in this neighborhood.”
After purchasing the old building, members of the nonprofit – which bears the same name as the community center – began tidying up the Nabe earlier this summer. It has fallen into disrepair in recent years, so the walls have been repainted, the floors have been repaired and the rooms have been cleaned.
The work remains, organizers say, but the progress of their efforts was visible to anyone who saw the interior of the 24,000-square-foot facility a month ago compared to today.
During the visits organized on Saturday, the participants got a glimpse of this renovated interior. However, much of the event activity at the start of the day took place on the community center lawn and parking lot, which organizers have turned into something that looks like a small fair.
Food vendors were camping on the outskirts of the rally. Children rushed between two inflatable houses and a mobile truck carrying playable video game consoles. Within sight of these children were their parents and other adults socializing to the music of the event.
“I’m so grateful that it brought this community together again,” said Anthony Dent, a 52-year-old man who once attended the community center as a child. “I can’t wait to see how this place will grow when it opens. “
James Carthan, a member of the nonprofit that owns the facility, said the support expressed by the community on Saturday was a sign that more success could be in store for the Nabe.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” said Carthan, 50. “I want this place to be a bright light for the young people of Saginaw.”
Childhood friends reunite to revive Saginaw children’s community center