Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Booker T. Washington Community Center is an example of survival. The organization opened in 1982 under the tutelage of the late Dorice Allen, and today the programs have grown to accommodate more than just recreation but also nutrition and education resources.
Executive Director Clifford Porter said the building always has been made available to community youths under the direction of church and community volunteers.
Porter started volunteering at the center at age 14 as a part-time athletic coach. At the time, the school operated what was then known as a “latch key” program for kids after school. Porter later started a full-time basketball program similar to the YMCA and Enid Youth league. He coached kids who were not picked by the other programs but wanted to play basketball.
“I took the kids nobody wanted, and a lot of kids came. I formed two co-ed leagues,” Porter said.
To participate in the program, grades and attitude were important, he said. Those participating had to maintain a certain grade point average.
“That’s how the program took off, and we started to need more people to handle all the kids,” Porter said.
After that start in recreation, things expanded to include nutrition and education, the final two of the three points of the Booker T. Washington Community Center program. Allen asked people in the community to come to the center after school and provide snacks for the kids. In 1998, when nutrition laws changed, the center became part of Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and obtains nutritious food items. Porter attended a seminar on operating a facility that serves food and taught the local staff. The center also is inspected annually for cleanliness and nutrition standards, he said.
“Education, nutrition and recreation, that’s what we promote,” Porter said.
To meet new education standards regarding testing for reading at the third- and fourth-grade levels, Booker T. Washington Community Center will begin a reading program this summer.
During the 1990s, Porter said there were more at-risk kids in the center. More children were going home from school to an empty house due to divorce, and the center program reached out to those kids to give them a place to go after school to keep them safe, he said.
Porter especially is thankful to United Way of Enid and Northwest Oklahoma and the city of Enid Community Development Block Grant program. United Way provides about 75 percent of the funding for the center and enables it to pay staff. Funding provided through the city CDBG program renovated the building and made the top floor available for education classes.
Booker T. Washington Community Center has grown from one executive director, directed by a board, and one custodian to four or five tutors, a cook and cook assistant and many volunteers, Porter said. It is one of the bright stories of the former all-black high school. In the early days, there were a number of attempts to close the school and the center, but the community always has made it available and kept it open.
“We had great leaders, Willie and Dorice Allen, John L. Hunter, Herbaline Laster and Jesse Ware. They are only a few of the early leaders, the pioneers who fought and kept the building open,” Porter said.
Booker T. Washington Community Center is the recipient of donations through the reality adventure series “Fireball Run.” The program involves driving teams competing for bragging rights, while raising awareness for America’s missing children. Enid will be featured as the run passes through town Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. Participants also will contribute to a designated charity in each community where they stop.