Commissioners will decide on another round of funding for the King Kennedy Center

King Kennedy Center Director Myia Sanders said some residents of the McElrath neighborhood have been waiting their whole lives for the construction of a gym on the complex. Michael Indriolo/The Portager

King Kennedy Community Center supporters are hoping Portage County commissioners will approve their $216,908 request to put in a parking lot, new bathrooms and storage space at the nonprofit’s new gymnasium and multipurpose building on Garfield Road in Ravenna.

Construction that began in 2020 is ongoing, but Frank Hairston, who has been active in promoting the organization, hopes the space — minus the restrooms and storage space — will be open for summer youth programs in June. Children can use the restrooms in the nearby King Kennedy Center, Director Myia Sanders said.

KKCC was built in 1978, when McElrath Park was ranked as one of the nation’s most underprivileged rural communities. Local community members, including the McElrath Community Improvement Corp., banded together to create a place where local residents could learn and grow. Inspired by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and President John F. Kennedy, students at Kent State also got involved.

“About 50 years ago, Kent State students donated money out of their tuition money to build the King Kennedy Center,” Hairston said. “It’s been a long time coming. They built the King Kennedy Center, but the gym never got built, so now we have an opportunity. It’s been a dream of the community for a long time.”

In 2002, KKCC merged with Family and Community Services, paving the way to expanded resource opportunities. In 2018, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services approved a $500,000 grant, and the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Portage County kicked in another $125,000.

That, Sanders said, got the building up. With the focus now on adding parking, restrooms and storage space, the additional funds are sorely needed, she said. The parking lot alone is estimated to cost $82,790 — serious money, but with enough parking, the building can be rented out for large events.

“That’s why we’re asking the commissioners for the money. We’re reaching out,” she said.

Sanders expects the commissioners to announce their decision in August, with money coming from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funds.

“It’s a beautiful thing to be able to benefit children,” she said. “It’s not just this community. This is to benefit all children, really, all people, and I’m just excited to provide this place for them.”

KKCC’s mission is to provide a safe space for youth to gather and to participate in social and educational activities. The center offers after-school tutoring, summer education programs, food assistance for youth and seniors, holiday programming, and a space to host events and temporary services.

Its programming focuses on youth and seniors but is available to serve all ages. In a typical year, KKCC serves about 100 youths, provides 150 academic tutoring sessions, and serves 25,000 breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. The majority of meals are served during summer programming, Sanders said.

To donate always-needed items such as school and cleaning supplies, toiletries or money, call the KKCC at 330-296-9957 or email Sanders at msanders@fcsohio.org.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.

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