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A safe haven

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Heavily-used Barr Street Family Life Center pumps new life into the east side of town

By Jesef Williams

Most ballers will tell you they’d gladly prefer to shoot hoops inside a gym versus on an outdoor court. 

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The advantages are obvious. The playing surface is much smoother. The rims and backboards are more appealing and the temperature is usually more comfortable. 

Those conveniences are apparent to Allen Cooper and the hundreds of other youngsters who regularly play basketball at Barr Street Family Life Center. 

The facility – which was part of the Barr Street High School campus decades ago – is anchored by a gymnasium and auditorium. Thanks to community dedication, as well as financial and in-kind support, the renovated facility is now a hub for activity on Lancaster’s east side. 

‘It keeps us out of trouble’

Allen, 13, has played ball inside the gym several times over the past year. He most recently took part in a comprehensive summer camp there called Vision of Home, which ran Monday, Aug. 5, through Thursday, Aug. 8. 

The camp, which included reading, guest speakers and a basketball tournament, was  organized by a Lancaster native who now goes by De’Earnte X.

He said he’s thankful the center is available for such functions. 

“It’s amazing because we didn't have this five years ago,” he said. 

Allen, one of more than 100 children to participate in the camp, knows Barr Street Family Life Center has been beneficial.   

“It keeps us out of trouble,” he said. 

Before the facility re-opened as Barr Street Family Life Center, Allen said he had to go all the way to Springdale Recreation Complex to play organized basketball. 

Wayne Murray, executive director for Hope on the Hill – the group behind the renovations, is well aware of the recreational limits for children on that side of Lancaster. 

Instead of having to ride a bike or catch a car ride to the Springdale complex, the children can travel a short distance to the Barr Street center. 

Murray touts it as a safe haven for the youth, who possibly would be hanging out in the streets instead. 

“The young people have nowhere else to go in this area,” Murray said. “This facility has the ability to change this whole community – from Southside to Main Street.” 

A day after the Vision of Home camp concluded, the center welcomed the first-ever Lancaster Community Gospel Fest. The two-day affair featured plenty of live music, praise dance and sports – all used in an effort to unite the community. 

The event drew local residents as well as out-of-county visitors. 

Facility funding 

This past week’s events are part of what Hope on the Hill had in mind as they’ve sought donations for the renovations. 

The city of Lancaster has given $400,000 over the last several years to the project, with a significant portion of that money from the city’s hospitality tax grant fund. 

Murray said former U.S. Rep. John Spratt helped Hope on the Hill get $300,000 in federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) money. 

And over the past few years, Founders Federal Credit Union has donated $50,000, Murray said.  

That $750,000 has paid for a new roof, new ceiling, alarm and fire systems, restroom renovations and improvements to the auditorium, among other upgrades. 

Murray said Hope on the Hill needs another $750,000 to finish renovations. Remaining work includes air conditioning for the gym, new seats for the auditorium and parking lot paving. 

Though more work remains, the auditorium has undergone enough renovations to where it’s now being used regularly for stage plays and other performances. 

Community Playhouse of Lancaster County had been looking for a “home” as they were told the auditorium would soon be available. 

The Community Playhouse’s first show there was in March. It has staged three plays so far – “Wind in the Willows,” “Deathtrap” and “James and the Giant Peach.” 

Holly Furr, president of the Community Playhouse board, said the partnership with Hope on the Hill has been a success.

“It’s nice for the community to use a facility that has meant so much to so many people,” Furr said. “This auditorium could be something amazing. We look forward to being a part of that.”  

Murray said Hope on the Hill has been contacted by groups who want to use the facility for class and family reunions. Future plans also include using the center for workshops, reading programs and health seminars. 

Barr Street Family Life Center is located at 612 E. Meeting St. For more information about the center, call (803) 283-4940. 

 

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at (803) 283-1152