Help Yourself by Helping Your Community: The Countee Cullen Community Center
Kids learn the value of being an active — and positive — force in their community.
At New York City's Countee Cullen Community Center, a teen council promotes activities that encourage youngsters to take a proprietary interest in their neighborhood. The center's teens produce public-service videos, organize street cleanups, publish a newspaper, and operate a nighttime teen lounge. "Here, kids learn to help themselves by helping their community," says Joe Stewart, codirector of the center. They even successfully petitioned an outdoor-advertising company to remove a Virginia Slims billboard from the neighborhood and replace it with an ad for the United Negro College Fund.
The center is operated by the nonprofit Rheedlen Center for Children and Families and is part of a citywide Beacons program that connects community services to neighborhoods. Located at Public School 194, the center is open from 9 A.M. to sometimes well past midnight, serving residents of all ages.
Center staff provide case management for social services, job-readiness training, adult education, and computer classes. The center helps parents stay connected with their children through support groups, parenting workshops, and family recreational activities. For teens, it offers a homework-help program as well as a version of Upward Bound, drug-awareness programs, late-night basketball, and a movie series. Community identification with the center is encouraged through high-visibility activities that include voter-registration booths, center T-shirts, and a neighborhood tree-planting project.