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Neighbors celebrate new Hawthorne Youth & Community Center

Building provides new space for programs and lower energy costs

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Neighbors celebrate new Hawthorne Youth & Community Center
Highland Park neighbors turned out for the opening of the newly-renovated Hawthorne Youth Community Center last week.

The shelf was more than packed: milks crates overflowing with art supplies, board games stacked high, binders and folders tumbling out. Roxbury’s Hawthorne Youth and Community Center snapped a photo and posted it to their blog, under the headline “We need more space!”

The Center and its many operations were long confined to a one-room metal schoolhouse. When it were built in the ‘80s, the structure was meant to be a temporary holdover until a better spot was constructed.

Now, with Sunday’s ribbon-cutting, a dream decades in the making has been realized. HYCC opened its new home, a renovated and far more spacious building on the same location. The construction added 800 feet, a teen space, media center, renovated kitchen, gallery, storage and staff office. Passways into and through building were made more disability-accessible and system upgrades are expected to reduce energy usage by 80 percent.

Treasurer Carrie Osborne-Jefferson cut a ceremonial yellow ribbon tied across the threshold to the new office. As cheers began, she waved her fist in the air and broke into a chant of “Sam Sadd, Sam Sadd!” Her words evoked the Center’s long time director, Samantha Sadd, in whose memory the building was dedicated. Sadd passed away in February at age 74. From attendees’ speeches, it was clear Sadd had been a vital force who had pushed hard for renovations.

Construction by community

In Fall 2014, Josh Rose-Wood of Rose Wood Architects Sadd, HYCC’s board, and members of Placetailor met to plan the renovations. They reviewed a collection of plans that had been developed by students, architects and other designers over the years and discussed visions for the space. Rose-Wood said one of the first needs they outlined was storage: “They [the Center] were just bursting at the seams.”

HYCC provides programs to low- and moderate-income families with offerings for children, teens and adults; Boston College estimates more than 200 youths are served annually. Everything from afterschool programs to community development meetings were hosted in the one-room building. Any event going on would dominate the space, making overlapping programming difficult. Thus a major focus of the renovation was to provide separate rooms for the different functions.

Over subsequent months, community effort and goodwill powered the project. To recruit further funding, HYCC ran a “Raise the Roof” campaign, asking for donations of money, materials and time. Placetailor and Rose Wood Architects offered their services at significantly reduced rates, as did members of the community. Thirty students from Harvard arrived to help landscape, Boston Cares provided two days of service, a kitchen consultant who once worked for Shawmut Construction offered free consulting, volunteers came from Youth Build Boston and an electrician from the neighborhood worked at a discount rate. One some Sundays, community members came together to raise frames.

“The collaborative effort to just get it done was amazing,” said Rose-Wood.

Though it is useable, the building still needs finishing. Discussions are underway with North Bennet Street School about the possibility of cabinetry teachers incorporating hands-on learning, where students can help build the kitchen.

Environmental model

“As far as we know, this is one of the highest performing ecological community centers in New England,” said Travis Anderson of Placetailor. The new center uses energy-saving features that will greatly reduce operating costs, said Rose-Wood.

The old oil-burning furnace was removed, replaced by upgrades that passively maintain comfortable temperatures with minimal use of a temperature control system. Among the upgrades are thick insulation to prevent loss of heat or cooling and Heat Recovery Ventilation machines that trap most heat exiting the building, transferring it to fresh, incoming air.

“The amount of energy needed to heat the place in the winter is the amount a single space heater would circulate,” said Daniel Janey, chair of HYCC’s board.

Program plans

With new space, HYCC can incorporate more people and hold more activities simultaneously, said Danielle Sommers, who has worked at the Center for the last four years. They also are able to hold more programs in-house, said Janey.

Currently, HYCC’s main focus is maintaining and expanding existing programs, said Sommers. That includes seeking to renew the Barr Foundation grant that has supported the Say It Loud youth arts program and relicensing the afterschool program, she added. HYCC was informed that because the afterschool program closed during construction, they will need to reapply for Early Education and Care licensing. Janey said they expect to have afterschool running again in October.

Another dimension to program sustainability involves finding ways to fill the many roles Sadd had performed.

“Sam did everything; she did the work of five people,” said Board Member Rebekah McKinney.

McKinney said they plan to include more exploration of science, technology and math in their programs.

“We’ve always touched on these things a little bit and we’ve done it lightly,” said Sommers. She also noted their intent to emphasize more purposefully the STEM elements in their existing programs.

Gardening is another focus, as HYCC builds up its community garden and hopes to build a greenhouse, which will allow them to teach about agriculture and soil biology.

But for the most part, they are holding off on new programs until a new executive is selected, said Janey, so as to give that person room to bring in their own ideas.

Remembrance for Sam Sadd

Attendees lined the walls or sat at tables draped with sunny yellow tablecloths and decorated with vases of plastic sunflowers, one of Sadd’s favorite flowers. Sunflower-shaped balloons rose up from a long table where chicken, veggies, rice and cheese cubes waited, ready for consumption once the ceremony concluded. A large sunflower display invited visitors to write a message in memory of Sadd on yellow petals, and then attach them around the seeds.

Speakers of all ages stepped to the microphone and recounted how Sadd had touched their lives. They reminisced on how she inspired creativity and opened new doors by introducing Center members to activities as diverse as skiing, leadership training or making musical instruments out of cardboard. Many recalled how Sadd had pushed them to educational success or helped them get work.

“When I received my diploma, I had a few people to thank: God, my parents, and Sam,” said Rayma Alexander, who joined HYCC at age 9 and went on to graduate from Boston University. Today she is Global Internal Communications Partner at Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions, Inc. Sadd gave honest, thoughtful appraisal of her schoolwork and was always willing to help and encourage, she said. “Sam was like sunshine to me, casting hope, spreading warmth and inspiring creativity.”

By all accounts, Sadd worked day and night for the Center. Lisa Lee, a spoken word teacher in HYCC’s afterschool program, read a poem written in honor of Sadd. In the midst of a line claiming Sadd was now resting, Lee had to admit, “Ok, that’s baloney.” The audience laughed in agreement.

Mayor Martin Walsh and Councilor Ayanna Pressley both commended Sadd’s work to create and maintain community.

“We got this beautiful new building. … That’s the easy part: making this building,” said Evan Smith of Placetailor. “The hard part is filling in where Sam left off. She was pretty amazing.”

The building itself will be named in Sadd’s honor, said Janey.

New relationships

During the construction phase, relationships were built as well. With so many organizations and community members coming together, networking flowed. Boston Cares became involved with the Center and now has established a continuing relationship. Placetailor found new hires through the project, bringing on at least three fulltime employees. They also posted an ad outside the Center, announcing openings for carpenters and a project manager.

History of HYCC

HYCC was founded in 1967 when a few adults and youths turned a coal cellar into a team club-room. They moved into a three-story building at the current location, 9 Fulda St. in 1970, but were forced to move again when fire claimed the structure three years later. The Center quickly started fundraising for a new building. When they returned to the space, some of those funds went to creating a single-room steel structure, with the rest reserved for building a larger home, said Janey.

They have “always been fundraising for this,” he said.

HYCC continues to seek revenue for landscaping, art supplies and trips for the children.

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