Claymont Center Has Deep Community History, but a Focus on the Future

    Claymont Community Center CEO Allison David with proud, budding artists inside the library room

Since the Claymont Community Center first opened its doors in 1975, the center has served thousands of families, children and seniors as a hub for learning, getting healthy, and building community.

The vibrant center is always busy – classrooms, gymnasiums and a library room filled with students, families picking up free groceries at the food closet, seniors taking computer training and ceramics classes, youth playing organized sports on the fields.

With 60,000 visits annually and an endless list of programming offered, the Claymont Community Center (CCC) now serves residents well beyond the city’s border while maintaining its focus on being open and inclusive to everyone.

 

First constructed as Claymont High School, the center actually played a significant role in the history of school integration. And there are important murals inside that few have seen, making the center an intriguing place to visit.

The Inaugural “C3 5K” Fest benefitting youth services programs at the center takes place on Saturday, September 28th. For many, this will be the first time they become acquainted with the organization. So we decided this would be a good time to check in with CCC CEO Allison David to learn more about this northern Delaware gem.

Bottom left: Construction of the Claymont Public School, March, 1924, and other archival photographs of students and the former school

The Claymont Community Center has a rich history. Can you tell us a bit about that?

One thing that is special about the center is that it is the original home of Claymont High School, which closed in 1969. It was built in 1924.

The school has a unique history because it was also one of the first to desegregate. The case here was one of the four cases that were included in Brown v the Board of Education case. We have a whole history room that supports that. In fact, the class of 1969 is coming back to enjoy their 50th reunion in October.

WPA murals painted by the artist Walter Pyle, Jr., were installed in the school around 1935 to inspire people who were suffering through the Great Depression. They were restored in 2013-2014.

We even have original Works Progress Administration murals painted by the artist Walter Pyle, Jr.  The facility operated for a while as a middle school, then we established this as a community center in the 1970’s.

Can you describe the community you serve?

The Claymont Center serves families in Claymont and the surrounding areas anywhere from low to moderate income. They might be a working family that needs help putting food on the table, or new immigrants learning English, or it could be an older adult who wants to stay connected to their community.

The Brandywine Senior Center offers a variety of activities, including craft making classes, games and computer training

It’s really life-span services that are going on here – from very young to very mature. Our mission is to enhance the community addressing the human needs of wellness, belongingness and esteem. 

In our direct programs, we serve 5,000 people per year. But the center – with the variety of community organizations we host – has 60,000 visits annually. This demonstrates the significant volume of traffic that this center gets.

I like to think that we also serve our growing community of volunteers. We now have about 100 volunteers, and we are immensely grateful for the incredible work they do, especially our volunteers board members who provide their time, treasure and talents with us to govern our work.

How has the CCC evolved since it opened nearly five decades ago?

The spirit of the mission has not changed since our founding in 1975. The center has always been a reflection of the community we serve — from youth to seniors and families who are struggling as well as those who seek out some of the many enriching opportunities we offer. We’re focused on it being open and inclusive to everyone.

My goal is to make sure that the center is a warm and welcoming place that people come to not only because they need services but because they want to be here to enjoy many aspects of their community. 

Claymont Community Center

Kids from the Empowered Youth Program enjoying a field trip to a nearby trampoline park

Can you describe the types of programming offered at CCC?

We have four signature programs. Our Empowered Youth after school program for middle schoolers offers lots of different activities to help kids learn about themselves, how to communicate with others and be the best that they can be. Our instructor describes this as helping them be healthy, happy and whole.

We are trying to support kids in our community in a lot of different ways. Middle school is tough – it’s hard to find your way. Homework help is available, and we offer arts and crafts and sports instruction. We’ve seen their confidence grow and their studying habits improve as they prepare to take on the demands of high school.

Tutors help students after school with projects and homework

Our Brandywine Senior Center serves adults over 50. For this group we offer things like bingo, lunch, art, day trips, computer training and general socialization.

Our Learning Center helps adults who are looking to get their high school diploma or GED and helping immigrants who are learning English and obtaining citizenship.

In our Food Closet, we are serving 150 households per month who need additional support. We partner with the Food Bank of Delaware and get donations from Food Lion, Trader Joe’s and Wawa and a huge amount of community donations of food.

The center enjoys 60,000 visits each year

How has the CCC’s food closet evolved to meet changing and demands from the community?

In my two years as head of the CCC, we have had a slight uptick in visits to the Food Closet. A lot of the people we serve are working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Our clients say this is clearly the thing that helped them eat. That they could feed their children and eat as well. That they didn’t have to choose between paying a bill and eating. There are of course some income requirements but we try to serve anyone who needs help.

 

We recently expanded to include Saturday hours, and we recently moved to a choice model, which means people can come in, grab a cart and walk through the pantry and choose the items they want. Previously we would bag items for people. I think this process allows them choice and more dignity. We wanted to improve the experience that people had when they were coming here.

Volunteers stack the shelves at the Food Closet, which now allows visitors to come select their own groceries

Which other organizations also offer programming at the center?

There’s a whole bunch of things that are going on here. There are 12 organizations that operate their programs here offering activities people can take advantage of – educationally, socially, recreationally. We have two day care programs – New Castle County Head Start and Brandywine Child Care and Preschool. And we have Gaudenzia, which offers substance abuse counseling and Tomorrow’s Change, which provides mental health counseling.

Claymont Community Center

Artwork is a big component of the center’s youth services and gives kids a creative outlet to express themselves

Tell us a little about yourself.

I have been in workforce development for my entire career – for 28 years – supporting families with moving forward. I’ve worked at larger organizations, including Goodwill, and then I came here two years ago. The breath of what we do inspires me every day. People come here and they get to interact and take something with them to move themselves or their families forward.

I am from the New York/Connecticut area. But after graduating from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, I ended up staying in the area. I live very close to the center with my husband, my two sons and our dog Lola!

 

What can we look forward to at the 5K?

It’s been many years since we hosted a 5K. So, one of our board members suggested we resurrect the fundraiser idea, and we’re calling it the “inaugural” C3 5K. It starts and ends at the community center and people can run, walk, sponsor, or volunteer. There are a ton of ways they can participate. After the event there will be a festival with food, vendors, community resources, music and activities for the whole family.


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About the Contributor

Christy Fleming

Christy Fleming

The managing editor of TownSquareDelaware.com, Christy Fleming also supports a variety of non-profit initiatives in Delaware. Her background includes positions in public relations, advertising and journalism.

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