How to Start a Community Center

by Marianne Moro

A community center provides a meeting place and/or educational focal point for citizens of a particular geographic area or social group to gather for different types of activities. There may be classes, team sports, movies and plays offered onsite at the center. Most cities have publicly funded community centers, though some community centers are privately financed and provide classes for a fee. Community centers can be affiliated with a certain school, religious group or arts organization, or simply serve all residents of a town or city.

Determine what your community center will offer. Community technology centers offer access to computers and other technology for disadvantaged students and adults. A youth center gives kids and teenagers a place to socialize and participate in meaningful after school activities. A general community center serves youth and adults, and sponsors everything from poetry readings to tennis lessons, depending on the founder's resources and mission.

Write a mission statement. Make your priorities for the center clear. Envision how it will educate local citizens and provide a healthy social base for the community. Identify the needs of the locals you wish to serve via interviews with school administrators, librarians, clergy, politicians and businesspeople in your town or city. By being specific about your goals and taking a proactive stance, you can increase the likelihood that prominent citizens in your area will help make the center a reality.

Consult local government about licenses and other rules. Check about operating permits, zoning, insurance and safety regulations. File 501(c)(3) paperwork for charitable organizations if you intend to run a non-profit organization. If you intend to charge for classes and run a privately funded center, apply for the appropriate business permits.

Find a building to house the center. Good places to consider include church basements, spaces in or adjunct to schools and libraries, or clean, easily renovated storefronts or other buildings in safe neighborhoods. Check spaces that can be easily accessed by public transportation if you intend to serve children, teens or low-income residents. If you get a bargain on the rental or purchase of an older building, make sure it's up to code. Have an inspector OK the building before renovating or moving furniture and equipment into it.

Check public and private funding sources. If you will offer classes and other activities for a fee, secure a loan through your bank or other sources or contact private investors or philanthropists. Look into grant programs through federal and state education programs such as the 21st Century Community Learning Center Program. Follow application guidelines for these programs with great care. Many of them serve only a specific type of center or student body.

Hire paid or volunteer staff, depending on the type of center. Develop a list of activities and classes. Coordinate schedules and arrange the space to suit each class. Desks and chairs used for Monday's tutoring need to be removed for Tuesday's dance class, for example. Purchase office supplies and furniture (or accept donations), and decorate the community center in a way that's appropriate for your clientele.

About the Author

Marianne Moro is a copywriter and journalist based in Hollywood. She has been writing professionally since 1999, specializing in home remodeling, interior decorating, pets, travel and holistic health. Moro was a part-time editor and contributing writer for Remodeleze.com, a home remodeling and decorating website, and has also contributed to the Cutting Chair and Entertainment Today.

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