After more than four years of planning and renovations – and delays during a pandemic – Salisbury officials opened the new Newton Community Center that will offer programs for children and adults in the surrounding Camden neighborhood.
“This has been a long time coming,” Mayor Jake Day said during Friday’s ribbon-cutting event. “This is the end of a process that has taken a lot of people a lot of time and a lot of heart and hard work.”
In 1980, the house at 306 Newton St. became the home of the Copeland family, whose members had “a tremendous impact on our community,” Day said. But in 1986, the family suffered a setback when a fire broke out. Evidence of it can still be seen upstairs, he said.
To honor the family, Day invited Mandel Copeland onto the front porch as he unveiled a plaque naming it the Copeland House.
“We’re blessed that this family is in our community and that the home that raised this dreamer is going to raise many more dreamers,” the mayor said.
The city bought the property at the corner of Newton and Light streets in 2017 for $35,000 after it had been condemned and the first-floor windows and doors boarded up. The location was ideal because it sits adjacent to a city playground and a community garden.
Neighborhood residents and Pastor Martin Hutchison who first spearheaded the garden in 2015 had long called for a place where neighborhood children could go after school and during the summer.
There also was a push to provide activities for children after city officials considered imposing a curfew for juveniles, something that sparked “a big conversation with a lot of people,” said Jermichael Mitchell, who will head up programming at Newton Street.
“Instead of doing a curfew in Salisbury, let’s try to open up community centers to give our kids safe places to be at,” he said.
Day began planning for community centers when he was elected mayor in 2015 and formed a Youth Development Advisory Committee which named Smith-North Camden and Church Street, both of which have large juvenile populations, as the best locations.
The city opened its first community center on Truitt Street in 2018.
The newly opened Copeland House at Newton Community Center will offer programming for children and adults. Beginning this summer, programming for children ages 6 to 18 will include arts and crafts, poetry and creative writing, Lego league, music, movies and more.
Other community partners such as Salisbury University, Wicomico Public Libraries, and Salisbury Poet Laureate Nancy Mitchell, have agreed to provide programming at the center. Beacon of Light Church has also generously offered to provide community outreach support such as food and snacks as well as programming support.
“When it came to programming, we wanted to be sure that we were providing offerings for all members of the community and their different needs,” said Ron Strickler, the city’s Director of Housing and Community Development. “We’ve worked closely with community partners to develop courses and programs that cater not only to school aged children, but adults in our community as well,” he added.
As fall approaches, programming will change to better accommodate children’s school schedules. Staff and volunteers will be available for homework help every afternoon. The center will also provide snacks and offer other engaging after school activities.
In addition to the Newton Community Center’s offerings geared toward school-aged children, the center will begin offering programming geared toward adults. Wor-Wic Community College has partnered with the community center to offer GED and ESOL classes in the fall and spring semesters. Another community partner, Salisbury Neighborhood Housing Services, also plans to host homebuyer education classes at the center.
“This community center is truly a labor of love. Love that we will put back into our community through programming, course offerings, and giving kids a safe, constructive place to go after school or over the summer,” said Day.