Good to Know: from Boy Scout meetings to Zumba classes, a vibrant Saint Rose community center takes shape in Albany’s Second Avenue neighborhood.

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Justin Ramson leads a discussion at the community center at the Plumeri Sports Complex, where a packed calendar of programs draws more than 100 people a week, and growing.

 

Any given weekday from 4p.m. to 6 p.m., Justin Ramson has his hands full.

One of those afternoons recently, I caught up with him in the community center of the Plumeri Sports Complex, where for almost three years he has created and run programs that draw a cross-section of the people who live nearby. This day, more than two dozen school-age children from across the city filled the space, each engaged in something fun, if not exactly quiet.

“The program started in the fall of 2011 with a goal of 10 hours per week of programming,” says Ramson, 28, his eyes scanning the room carefully. “We’ve pretty much doubled that.”

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I could not help jumping in, to show these kids a magic trick.

It’s easy to see why – the temptation to jump in and participate with the kids was just too great for me. A group of boys was playing Nintendo, while another pair challenged each other to “Speed Stacks,” a cup-stacking game where the person who sets up and takes down a set of plastic drinking cups fastest wins. Several played Jenga; others worked on art projects.

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Jermal, an Albany sixth grader, is there for the academics.

Some were there for academics. While I was showing a group of young students a card trick, I noticed 12-year-old Jermal remained focused on his math notebook. “I needed help with my homework,” he told me, “so I started coming here. Now I come here two, sometimes three times a week.”

Opened in 2010 as a venture of The College of Saint Rose and the City of Albany, the Plumeri Sports Complex is home to the Golden Knights baseball, softball, lacrosse and soccer teams. But sharing the facilities and talents of Saint Rose staff and students is also an important part of the plan. When Saint Rose teams are not using them, the fields are available to recreation leagues and sports camps.

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Saint Rose student Christopher Gaynair, a volunteer at the community center of the Plumeri Sports Complex, has apparently met his match in Connect Four.

Last summer, for example, Ramson employed 50 Albany teens – paid by the city – in a summer camp.

“We’re not just holding a camp for the kids, we are giving older kids jobs for the summer and showing them how to be a part of  the workforce,” said Ramson, a onetime personal trainer who earned a degree in health and exercise science from Syracuse University.

He estimates the community center, an unassuming maroon building located between the softball and baseball stadiums, draws about 150 people a week. They aren’t all kids. Zumba and yoga classes are offered, along with SAT preparation classes, neighborhood association meetings, Boy Scout meetings, mentoring, art education and Friday night movies. The events are largely free or cost a nominal fee. The College and city have made this possible through The Community Block Grant.

The center provides meeting space for local organizations. But most of the activities are presented by Saint Rose, where Ramson and a small staff are fortified by a cadre of volunteers, many student athletes.

The expanding list of programs at the Plumeri Sports Complex is a perfect example of the partnership between Albany and Saint Rose, a relationship that has also seen creation of the Help Yourself Academy, a mentoring program at Pine Hills Elementary School; the Friday Knights monthly activities program for children with autism spectrum disorders; and the Pauline K. Winkler Center, where top-tier specialists from the College’s own faculty assist persons in need of speech, language or hearing services.

Part of the College’s mission is to inspire its students to become active members of their communities.  “It’s amazing to see how much these kids grow,” says Lauren Sears, a journalism major who is also Ramson’s program assistant. “I love interacting with the kids. It’s really nice that they have a fun place to go.”

When does Ramson know the effort is paying off? When he talks to parents. “There have been some who have thanked me every day since their child started coming here,” he said.

For more information, please visit: http://www.gogoldenknights.com/sports/2010/7/16/GEN_0716105154.aspx.

— Josh Sheridan

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