Inwood resident Pat Jones was 13 the first time she walked into what was called “the mansion” behind the soccer field on the Five Towns Community Center campus in Lawrence.

Called the Trade School then, it was originally known to community members as a settlement house. Created in 1907, it was where young people learned industrial skills that boosted them to paying jobs.

The house was one of many projects funded by Five Towns resident Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, the executrix of the estate of her millionaire husband, Russell Sage, after he died in 1906. Also called the Inwood Community Center, it was renamed the Five Towns Community Center in the 1970s.

The building now in use on Lawrence Avenue was erected in 1972. The center is run in partnership with Nassau County, and leases the building from the county. The current lease expires in 2024.

“It’s a place that is very dear to my heart, and much needed because of the services that are offered,” Jones, 66, said of the place where she learned the secretarial skills – starting with typing – that she needed to become an administrative assistant to the senior vice president of operations for the Long Island Rail Road.

“It’s a home-grown place a place that is desperately needed, and the resources are there for people to take advantage of,” said Jones, who’s now retired and serves as secretary for the community center board of directors.

Her daughter, Keisha Jones, attended the center’s Head Start program, and her grandson, Charles Smith, took part in the after-school program.

Head Start now serves 76 students, and roughly 500 young people are involved in a variety of youth programming, Executive Director K. Brent Hill said. The center also offers after-school programs at Five Towns schools including the Franklin Early Childhood Center and Hewlett Elementary School.

Hill came to the community center in November 2019. Barely four months later he was managing operations amid a pandemic.

“I think I had great ideas coming into this position in terms of activities for the building and interactions with the community,” he said. “Unfortunately, Covid put the kibosh on that. And I had to switch roles, and I went from working with my staff one on one to keeping everyone safe and getting our staff set up for remote work. “

One interaction with the community that continues is the center’s food pantry. Run by Inwood resident Sasha Young, the Herald’s 2020 Person of the Year, Gammy’s Pantry, which has been supplemented by a partnership with Long Island Cares since June 2020, continues to help feed people who have lost their jobs, had their hours reduced, fallen ill or, during the pandemic, were caring for a sick family member.

Hill stresses that the pantry remained open throughout. Along with Long Island Cares, the pantry has partnerships with local organizations, including the Cedarhurst-based Rock and Wrap It Up! and stores such as Trader Joe’s. The pantry had more than 4,000 families registered as of late last year, Young said.

The center also fulfills a need for recreational and social-services programs. A revitalized Police Activity League program began in 2021 offering activities ranging from arts and crafts to basketball. “I think it’s a wonderful, wonderful additional resource for our young people,” Hill said, noting the support of Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder.

“It also builds bridges between law enforcement and young people,” Hill added, “which is vital, in my opinion.”
The center also hosts the annual Inwood Unity Day celebration, a variety of health fairs and seasonal holiday events, and there is a community garden and a summer camp.

Helping people fight substance addiction, the Center’s Committee on Drug Abuse offers family and group psychological and social counseling with the goal to work to address to the addiction, behavior and their emotions. A unique twist is peer counseling. Those who have battled addiction and its associated hardships work with CODA’s clinicians to counsel clients.

Inwood resident Helen Hunter, 82, has been involved with the community center since she was a child. She was 6 or 7, she said, when she attended a summer camp run through the settlement house years ago, and recalled activities like crocheting, knitting and macramé. She retired from teaching at the center in July 2011. Not long afterward, Hunter got a call asking her to fill in for a day. She’s still filling in.

“I’ve done a lot – I just can’t hardly remember a lot of the things I’ve done,” Hunter said. “I loved the dances that they had there, and I was always involved with that. I was just always there, available like I am right now. You can call me and I say OK, I’ll be there. “

Connecting the past with the present, Hill said that just as the trade school helped assimilate immigrants who came to the US in the early 20th century, the community center is now educating a new generation of immigrants.

“Some people – many people in the country have struggles of their own, and it’s harder for them to maybe lift their hand for another individual,” Hill said, describing the center as [“??]a beacon of hope, a beacon of promise. ” “So I feel very fortunate that the agency is here. And as an individual, that I’m able to extend a hand and help those that are in need. “

Have story about the Five Towns Community Center and the role it has played in your life? Send a letter to jbessen@liherald.com.

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