Sparks flew and water poured through a ceiling light in Roxborough’s Kendrick Recreation Center on a recent summer night. The overnight rain brought temporary relief from the heat, but it brought work in the morning for the folks running the summer gymnastics program, who scrambled to put out garbage cans to catch the water.
To work at the center “you have to love it,” said Jeanette Santora, the center’s gymnastics program director.
Santora learned gymnastics at Kendrick, starting classes at age five, and she likes giving back. The program has run for over 30 years and despite infrastructure issues—her wish list includes more space, steady air conditioning, a pit, and a chalk eater. Gymnastics has grown to be the center’s most successful program, according to Recreation Leader Bill Malizia.
Kendrick now hosts the first nonprofit USA Gymnastics (the sport’s governing body) program in Philadelphia enabling 28 junior athletes to compete nationwide. “Some girls here are going to get college scholarships,” predicted Malizia.
This is largely thanks to the dedication of staff (the center has only four full-time) like Stantora and Saranne Miller, who founded and coordinates the Kendrick Kippettes gymnastics team as well as long-time director Martha Ferris before them.
A delay in repairs
Malizia stressed the significance of human resources for the success of the center. New blood helped turn around the day camp and dedicated people in karate, gymnastics and other programs “brought enthusiasm and the kids pick up on that,” he said.
The center staff has helped bring funds in too. Last year, the gymnastics program raised nearly $10,000 from a haunted house and cartwheel-a-thon, as well as selling candles, and hosting birthday parties.
And they are resourceful. The gymnastics program has built its own balance beams, floor bars, and chalk bins. They jimmied together fans and air conditioner filters in lieu of chalk eaters.
Following a public outcry about the state of the Kendrick facility last fall, the city is taking notice too, and soon the leaks should stop in the gym. Temporary repairs have been made and a new roof is scheduled to be installed by October, according to Eileen Sheridan, district manager for Parks and Recreation. Originally planned for this summer, work was delayed because of the center’s high recreational use this season. In the meantime, a new fire alarm system and swing set have been installed and police presence has been increased.
While adults tackle leaks, supplies, and budgets, the kids play on. Liliana Gartanutti, 9, has been taking gymnastics at Kendrick for three years. She likes the vault and floor best. They are “funnest and easiest,” she said, besides “it really builds muscles.”
Public meeting set for August
Repairs and improvements are “moving in a timely manner,” said Curtis Jones’ press secretary Michelle Wilson, who added that the Councilman is “invested in the Kendrick Recreation Center” and understands that it is a “milestone in the Fourth District.”
While old facilities always need attention, “touch wood,” programs have been running smoothly, said Sheridan.
These programs include not just gymnastics, but swimming, boxing, karate, basketball, dodgeball, softball, fitness, day camp and others. And their popularity is increasing. The camp serves 65 children, about 20 percent more than last year. The certified karate program began with two people last year and now has 20 working on their belts.
Programming is, however, tied to facilities. To foster community rec center-city collaboration on these issues, a Kendrick Advisory Council was created last fall. However, the council has not met for “a number of months” and never created a “master list” of needs for the center, according to Ray Johnston, a member.
Sheridan said that the council hasn’t been meeting because summer is the busiest time for the center and council members. Malizia added that it takes time to put a stable and productive group in place that can appreciate the needs of the center as a whole, rather than for particular programs. To reinvigorate the effort, he is calling a council meeting that will be open to the public on Aug. 7 at 7 p.m.
“Anyone who cares about the center is welcome to come,” he said.