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Giving Back: The Charles A. Melton Arts & Recreation Center
ESTABLISHED IN 1918 as the West Chester Community Center, it was renamed the Charles A. Melton Arts & Education Center in 2004. But to those who gathered here throughout the years, neither name was really needed.
“When someone calls it ‘the Center,’ I know you’re from here and what it means to you,” says Lisa Dorsey, the president of the board of directors. Lisa’s a part of this institution’s long history.
“I lived around the corner on Barnard with my parents and grandparents,” she says. “My father came here, I went to Head Start and daycare here, and my grandson begs me to bring him here.”
Ken Winston is more of a newcomer, volunteering and then becoming executive director only a few years ago. But he has his own passion for this anchor of the historically African-American neighborhood on the borough’s eastern edges. “We’re moving forward, with new partnerships, like the memorandum of understanding between the Borough and the Center.”
That agreement allows the Borough and the Melton Center to share resources and coordinate events together, and signals a much closer relationship. Not everyone in West Chester was always so eager to partner with or support the Center. “My first year here I went downtown to get businesses to sponsor the basketball program and I got doors slammed in my face,” says Ken. But he persevered, and last year the summer basketball league fielded 15 teams for boys ages 8-16 and girls ages 8-13, supported with help from more local businesses every year.
Another point of pride is the New Directions after-school program that’s comprehensively addressing academics, culture, and behavior. Kickstarted by a grant from the Moody’s Foundation, there’s nothing else like it in West Chester, says Ken.
“Have you ever heard of an after-school program with report cards?” he asks with pride.
“We want to support the whole child academically, culturally, and behaviorally,” explains Lisa.
“It’s rigorous; you have to meet criteria to be maintained in the program.”
Community outreach and fundraising are a way of life for Lisa, Ken, the rest of the board, and
the growing number of volunteers. The next big campaign is one that might be closest to Lisa’s heart, the Pool Together campaign aimed at re-opening the Melton Center’s swimming facilities. “I graduated from the kiddy pool to the big pool and swam in it for years,” she says “When I joined the board eight years ago, my goal was to get that pool open again.” Other infrastructure concerns jumped the line, so it was on the back burner until now. As the only public pool in West Chester, its refurbishing and opening would benefit the entire community.
The Melton Center is committed to reaching out. “We have the most diverse board in West Chester,” says Ken. “We aim to serve everyone.” That desire gets back to basics for Lisa.
“We started as the West Chester Community Center,” she says. “And that inclusiveness is what we strive for—to embrace the whole West Chester community and have them come here.”