WOONSOCKET – Think of a place where a young person can get help with their homework from a certified teacher, meet with friends in a safe setting and even spend a little time thinking about college or a future career.
If you are picturing an afterschool program at a local school, think again. It’s the new Mary A. Longtin C-3 (College, Community and Career) Center.
The center, which was dedicated Thursday afternoon, offers its visiting young people two classrooms and a computer center all created in a 3,500-square-foot former industrial building at 120 Northeast St.
The unique twist of the project is that it also provides six modern apartments for teachers and other “community builders in residence,” in exchange for their time spent with the neighborhood young people using the center after school. Two local teachers, Katrina Lindo, a middle school math teacher, and Jacqueline Winn, an elementary teacher at Globe Park, have taken apartments in the building.
Also living at the center are program staff members Shelby Ferreira, an adjunct professor of English at the Community College of Rhode Island, and Victor Ramos, the media and healthy lifestyles community builder-in-residence at NeighborWorks, who’s also the assistant executive director of the Woonsocket Prevention Coalition.
The riverside property was once home to a machine shop that manufactured parts for the city's textile industry but has been completely renovated by NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley into a community development center intended to expand the federally-subsidized housing agency's efforts to revitalize the Constitution Hill neighborhood.
A painting of Mary A. Longtin, created by Jordyn Dubois at the RiversEdge Arts Project, was also dedicated in her memory during the grand opening attended by her family members.
Longtin, who died after an illness in 2000, was a longtime city resident and Air Force veteran of the Korean War, who volunteered with a long list of city organizations and community groups and also worked as office manager for NeighborWorks during its early years.
Longtin's sister, Faith Gaudet of Woonsocket, who was joined at the dedication by Longtin's other sister, Dorothy Cross of Cumberland, and the siblings' children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other relatives, said Longtin would have been honored by all the attention given her at the center.
“She would have had an acceptance speech ready,” Gaudet said while recalling her sister's very active roll in the community. “She was quite the person, both in her public life and with her family. She might have also tried to help organize the event because that also was her way.”
Cross said she was surprised by the work that had been done to create the new community center.
“I expected an old, torn down building and instead it is a beautiful building. I'll be back to see it again,” she said.
Longtin had also been one of the original employees working at the city's Museum of Work and Culture and also volunteered to help it put on programs for the community, according to Raymond Bacon, a retired city Social studies teacher and co-manager of the museum.
Longtin had been an “activist” in local politics and always advocated reform and community improvements, according Bacon.
“Mary never hesitated to openly express her opinions; she had the courage of her convictions,” Bacon said.
Longtin had also worked at the U.S. Rubber Company's Alice Mill, located just across the river from the new center until a fire destroyed it last summer, and was a union leader for her fellow employees, he noted.
“The dedication of this building is a fitting tribute to her commitment and devotion to her City of Woonsocket, R.I.,” Bacon said.
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who helped secure federal funding for the new program along with the rest of the state's congressional delegation, praised the completed project while crediting O'Hearne Associates and Kimberly Construction Services for its design and construction.
“I really love this building,” Whitehouse said while thanking the companies for their work on the project.
The center will help young people from the neighborhood achieve their goals in life and serve to remember the commitment of Longtin to her community, Whitehouse said.
The senator pointed to a quote painted the wall of one of the building's classrooms from Winston Churchill that states: “Never, never, never give up.”
It was a statement that represents Longtin, he offered, and also the people working to create the center.
“This is a place in which I think we are going to honor the commitment we all have to our kids, the next generation coming along, to never, never, never give up on them,” Whitehouse said.
He also asked the neighborhood's young people joining the dedication to make a similar commitment.
“This is a really cool resource that a lot of people have worked real hard to build for you. In accepting it, I hope you will also commit to pay forward in the way you grow and the way you learn, and the way you live your lives,” he said. “I think you can do that by never, never, never, giving up on yourselves.”
Lindo, a graduate of Providence College's teaching program, said she has been working in Woonsocket for two years and is learning from the neighborhood young people coming to the center's afterschool program even as she helps them with their homework or their hobby activities afterwards.
“I'm with these youth sometimes until 8 o'clock at night. But it is something that I value and I see that they value, which makes it really, really worthwhile,” she said.
Woonsocket Schools Supt. Giovanna Donoyan said she can see how the school department's students will benefit from the center's academic programs, but noted they will also benefit from their other activities at the center.
“Learning is lifelong, and when you come here you will be learning and when you play here you will be learning,” she said.
The students using the center have the potential to become role models for the community, just as Lindo has become a role model to them, Donoyan said.
“And as long as a I am around, I'm going to do everything possible to ensure that these folks become our future role models,” she added.
NeighborWorks Executive Director Joe Garlick told the gathering that the center was completed with the help of a number of NeighborWorks partner organizations including the City of Woonoscket through its Home Funding program, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, represented by Barbara Fields at the dedication, and Rhode Island Housing, who sent Richard Godfrey. A total of $1.5 million in funding from the agencies went into the renovation project, according to Garlick.
Peter Gabbidon, an 11-year-old participant in the Center's programs, gave his seal of approval to the group's work as the dedication ended.
“When I come here, I feel welcome, and I do my homework here,” he said.
Gabbidon noted that he and the other young people visiting the center also get to do “a lot” of other activities and sometimes go into the computer lab or play basketball.
“I think of it as my home,” he said as he left the renovated building.