The Center Opens
ALBANY, NY (Sept. 27, 2010) – Beginning a legacy of community-centric service to children and families in the Capital District, "God With Us" the Center entertained more than 300 people at its open house on Sept. 25 with an information fair, outside bounce house, guided tours, free refreshments and other activities.
“We’re very grateful for the opportunity to serve children and to serve this community. We believe that this building called the GWU stands at the focal point of many of the communities here in the city of Albany,” said Pastor of “First” Israel A.M.E. Church Dr. Reverend Edward B. Smart to a crowd in front of GWU The Center building at 274 Washington Avenue. “We believe that the real change and the real renaissance that will take place in Albany will take place because we’re doing something about jobs, housing and education centered on children. And so today we take this opportunity to open up our doors to everyone who may visit.”
After a prayer lead by Brother Joel Lomnick, one of the stewards of the church, Marion Smart, the first lady of Israel Church unveiled the awning of the building with the help of local children as a large applause.
John Harris, who works in the Albany School District at Albany High School, said the opening of the center was timely was school officials look to support positive places for children to gather after school.
“I just believe that this could be a great extension for our students and families to be able to come in and participate in a safe environment because it’s about safety and after school,” Harris said. “We know it will not be successful unless we all pitch in and help – both financially, both spiritually, and professionally as we are able to share those gifts that God has given us to serve the children that God has designated us to serve. In the long run I know that God is with us. “
Sister Carolyn Williams spoke on behalf of Israel Community Services Program, Inc. – the nonprofit entity that owns and oversees GWU The Center—remarking that the leadership of Pastor Smart was integral to the acquisition of the building and opening of the center itself.
“I have to say something about our pastor and his vision. We all remember when our pastor came to us some years ago with this passion and this vision that we would own a property to continue God’s work. He came and asked us to support St. James but that wasn’t what God had for us. He came back to us and asked us to support the purchase of another building, which we did, but that’s not what God had for us,” Williams said.
“Pastor Smart’s vision, his persistence, his boldness – when you think about the day when he sat with all of those attorneys who were trying to decide the fate of this particular facility – and what did he say? He said, ‘If you give it to me, I’m going to name it God With Us,’” Williams said. “ I want to thank Pastor Smart because he ‘s brought all of us along in believing that God will do what he promised that he would do. And he gave us an asset that was worth $4.6 million. The 501(c)(3) starts its future in a positive way – we have no debt that would have come with St. James, or with the other property , because God knew what we needed.
“Pastor smart, we love you. You have taught us. You have forced us to think differently and to believe. You have told us and shown us what it means to go to God and believe he’s going to do what he said he would do. On behalf of the 501(c)(3) I say thank you, for we are pressing ahead and moving forward,” Williams said.
Many people who visited GWU The Center had positive remarks to share.
“This is a great opportunity for kids,” said Peter Burtsinger, of Brunswick.
“I’m very excited to see a church stretch out and to do community stuff,” said Celinda Okwuosa, of Colonie. “I see this as a great opportunity to reach more young people in the community by providing a service such as this. To see a church follow vision and see it become a reality is a plus.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen a church stretch this far and to this magnitude to provide a service that will benefit the total community. And I think it’s wonderful,” said Okwuosa.
“This is a great endeavor for this church and we’re proud of it. We don’t have things of this sort in the city of Albany. To have this type of facility and open it up to the public is great,” said Iley Wallace, a representative of Metropolitan Baptist church in Albany.
“God has used Israel to do it once again – over the top!” said Rev. Iris F. Waddell, of Chatham.
“It’s about time somebody did something for kids that didn’t contain profit,” said Mary, a resident of Albany. “Often organizations do something to make money not just for the kids.”
One of the participants in the informational fair held in the upstairs gym of GWU also realized the benefit the center would bring to the community.
“I want to give a very special thank you to Gina Yarn and Gail for inviting The Community Hospice to have a table. We are ecstatic about the community center and what it means to the people who will be served and we look forward to partnering and doing anything we can do to support GWU The center,” said Alicia Saure, community outreach liaison for The Community Hospice in Rensselaer.
ABOUT GWU The Center:
GWU The Center is a 71,000-square-foot facility and the home for several programs that care and nurture the Capital Region, including a place for teens to meet, a Saturday night gang prevention program, Senior basketball night on Fridays, and the Black & Latino Achievers Program.
The facility is also currently in use as a site where the Albany District Attorney’s Office sends people to work off community service hours, the Children’s Place Summer Day Camp, the Smart Start Employment Readiness program, and a new Capital Region program known as Career Pathways that focuses on recruitment, credentialing, training and placement of young adults in college-connected careers.
The community center includes two gymnasiums that take up more than 12,000-square-feet; a 1,000-square-foot furnished meeting space, indoor track located in the basement, and several offices.
We’re working with local organizations and businesses to find uses for other parts of the building. Current spaces available for lease/renovation include a 5,150-square-foot Olympic size pool along with a whirlpool and storage area, a 2,886-square-foot area that was once used as a pool, 3,040-square-foot of racquetball courts, and several offices/meeting spaces.
For general inquiries, building representatives can be reached at (518) 813-9733 between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.