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Posted: September 1, 2010 12:00 a.m.

A new hope for Nelson Heights

By Gabriel Khouli /

As he snipped the red, celebratory ribbon, District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson officially opened the Nelson Heights Community Center, completing a dream several years in the making.

"Most people know that even though it's been appointed as being my idea, it's not. It's really your idea," Henderson told the assembled crowd that packed the new center. "When we first started thinking about the 2005 SPLOST, we wanted to go out to people who lived in the community and ask for your ideas, your opinions. What do you want? What's your vision?"

Five years later that vision stands tall, and community leaders hope it will become a beacon of a progress for one of Covington's oldest black communities.

"This is a building that this community can learn to love, and it will do great wonders for this community here," said Johnny Pressley, chairman of the Newton Recreation Commission, the group that officially is in charge of the building. "This is a place where the kids can come to learn, rest, be quiet and relax. And we all need that, especially kids."

The recreation commission signed a two-year operating contract with the Washington Street Community Center non-profit group, which will run all of the programming, including WSCC's cornerstone tutorial program.

"I want you to know that WSCC indeed finds it an honor to have been asked to step up and take the challenge and indeed we have done that. And we are excited about all of the possibilities that are yet to come," said Bea Jackson, executive director of WSCC, noting that the center will start with a simple line of programming and grow from there.

"It's going to take all of us. We're going to need volunteers in record numbers. We're going to need you, your human resources, and of course your dollars and contributions and anything you can to help us make this a reality for this community."

According to flyers handed out at the grand opening, the center will offer the after school tutorial program at a cost of $25 for the first child, $15 for the second child and $10 for each additional child. Adult literacy, GED and nurturing parenting programs are also planned to be offered at no cost. Registration was set to begin this week at the center from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and classes are expected to start Sept. 13.

The building has a main room, a computer lab with a handful of computers, an office, a kitchen area and restrooms. It has a total area of around 3,000-square-feet, and sits on 11.29 acres, which was donated by the city of Covington. The city also extended an 8-inch water line to the building and waived the tap fees.

Several speakers at Sunday's ceremony asked the crowd to provide the same volunteering efforts they've given to WSCC since it opened in 1996.

"We hope the same spirit of volunteerism, the same passion that we see over at WSCC will pass over here, so we can meet he needs of all the people in our community," said Dr. Melvin O. Baker, chairman of the WSCC Board of Directors.

Jackson said previously that WSCC's operating budget is around $200,000, so even with a reduced program schedule, the NHCC need a strong volunteer force to fit within its $32,000 budget, most of which went to hire an operations manager and a program director.

"When I met J.C., when he first became a commissioner, he came in and had one rule when he was elected - "I want to serve the people of my district." And J.C. has continued to do that for 12 years," said county Chairman Kathy Morgan. "He had a grand version and worked and worked until he got it completed and built... The number one service for this building is to fit the needs of the children."


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