ENID, Okla. —
Booker T. Washington Community Center has been serving its low- to moderate-income patrons since 1982, and it has become a labor of love for those who work there.
A former public school during the days of segregation, the building was open in the 1970s as a gymnasium for use by neighborhood kids. It also contained a pool table and a ping pong table, said Clifford Porter, executive director of Booker T. Washington Community Center. The rest of the building still was filled with school supplies, and there was a stage on the east end of the gymnasium.
“I’ve been a part of Booker T. all my life,” Porter said.
The building had served as a teen center, Porter said, and he was 14 when former director Dorrice Allen hired him. Allen operated the center for many years, drawing assistance from other community leaders and neighborhood churches. Funding often came from their own pockets, Porter said.
“The city kept the lights on, but there was no heat,” he said.
Some of the early supporters of the center included Gladys Winters, John L. Newton, Jesse Ware, Dorrice and Willie Allen and Herbaline Laster. Porter said they were the mainstays, keeping it open to the community. During the summer they operated a full-time youth program.
After college, Porter returned to Enid in 1987 and began to volunteer as a youth coach. serving until 1992, when he was hired by Allen as assistant director. He became executive director in 1999.
Porter said there have been many changes in youth sports during the past decade. The independent football program operated by Booker T. Washington joined Enid Joint Recreation Triad, along with its independent basketball league.
He also said interest has waned, as more children are staying home using their cell phones and computers.
There have been economic changes, as well.
All of this has affected Booker T., which exists on minimum funding each year, Porter said, but it remains open to the community, youth and schools.
“This is a safe place. Kids can come here and be safe after school,” he said.
The center’s after-school program, which consist of recreational, educational and nutrition programs, starts every weekday at 3 p.m. and conclude at 6.
Day-to-day the center hosts between 45 and 50 kids, from kindergarten through high school, after school. The junior and senior high school students volunteer in the programs. The Kids Cafe nutrition program sometimes obtains grants to help pay the kids who volunteer for part of their time.
The summer youth program is an eight-week event for ages 8 through high school, he said. The summer camp includes a number of activities, such as field trips and mentoring programs. He said he always is searching for more ways to best serve today’s youth.
The center also serves as a referral service to help elderly individuals contact various agencies for needed services.
The building is also open evenings until about 9 for meetings, exercising and social activities.
The building also can be rented for events and parties.
Porter said a number of groups meet there, and a church recently held a dinner at the center.
The nutrition center at Booker T. Washington serves about 300 meals per day and has done so for about 20 years.
Food for the Meals-On-Wheels program that goes to a number of neighboring towns is prepared at Booker T. Washington, and the building also now houses Opportunities Inc. Head Start program, which occupies the basement.
Porter said he would like to purchase a generator so the center can become a warm up place during times when the community experiences power problems. He said he is working toward that goal.
‘Labor of love’
Booker T. Washington Community Center has a seven-person part time staff and a 10-person board of directors.
“This is a labor of love for me,” Porter said.
The biggest problem for Booker T. is funding, the same as every other community agency in town, he said.
“We exist on the prayers and the big hearts of people who care for the center and help,” he said.
Porter’s biggest concern is when funds begin to be depleted. If the center has to shut down, he worries about that type of negative activities the kids will find.
Porter said he recently received a good response after reaching out to a number of churches for help with center’s programs.
“These doors being open keeps kids from going other places. A place that single parents and grandparents raising kids can trust,” he said. “Booker T. is the biggest monument to this community.”
In the history of the center, Porter said they have never called police due to fighting or drug use.
“It’s a blessing to this community,” he said. But he fears there is insufficient funding to keep it going indefinitely.
In addition to the pockets of residents, the center receives funding from United Way, Community Development Block Grant, Dorrice Allen Foundation Kids Cafe and some rental income.
Porter said he plans to continue to at Booker T., as it affectionately is called, in some capacity as long as he can.
“As long as I have a heartbeat, I will spend time here,” he said.