Parents want their kids to be healthy, stay safe, and have good character.
The Bladensburg Community Center at 4500 57th Avenue helps with all three.
Families in Riverdale Park, Bladensburg, and the surrounding area can take advantage of the youth camps, workshops, and events the center will host this spring and summer—some of them found nowhere else in Prince George’s County.
This Saturday, the center will host a Black History Month celebration. Groups of students from from Bladensburg Elementary School, Gladys Noon Spellman Elementary School, Cooper Lane Elementary School, and Bladensburg High School will perform on-stage musical medleys, dances, and song recitals in commemoration of the Harlem Renaissance era (the early 1900s).
“It’s going to be exciting to see what these kids bring to the table,” said Jeremy Weiss, community center program specialist.
This Black History Month performance is a yearly tradition in Bladensburg, but this is the first time ever that the community center will be hosting it. Chris Mendoza, Ward 1 city council member and chair of the event committee, said that the town has always held a performance at the town hall.
Attendees can expect a much larger-than-usual event this year—six scheduled stage performances—according to Mendoza. The community center has a lot more space than the town hall.
“Because we have a bigger venue to do it at, we can have more performers,” he said. “We used to only have one or two.”
Later this spring, the center will host a Building Block Training Program, a series of workshops for teens on leadership. Weiss will plan games themed around leadership qualities—sensitivity, honesty, communication, etc.—and follow them with discussions such as having the kids debate which qualities they think are the most important.
“I kind of facilitate and let the kids run it themselves,” he said of the debates.
The Safe Summer Program runs June through August. Every day will feature new activities: laser tag, caricature art, and many others.
“The program isn’t a ‘here’s a basketball; see you later,’” said Weiss.
The center does have basketball, too—it's the only summer basketball league in the county. All kids ages 8 to 14 are welcome.
Other summer camps are more education-centered. There is a video production camp, in which kids write their own film scripts and produce their own videos; and an entrepreneur camp, where kids create their own mock businesses.
“A kid can say ‘I was 12 years old and I started my own business,’” Weiss said. “We’re helping kids get off to a good start.”
Allison Dugas, a Bladensburg police officer, gives the community center a lot of credit. She noted that its programs run as late as midnight and give kids of all ages a safe place to have constructive, trouble-free fun.
“The rec center gives the kids a place to go and helps keep them off the streets,” she said, adding that “Our call volume decreased thanks to Safe Summer.”
Dugas remembers last Halloween. She said that police tend to expect more mischief that day of the year, but last year, the Bladensburg area’s Halloween was incident-free. She attributes much of that to most young people being at the community center’s Haunted House.
Weiss helped groups of young volunteers make up a story about a ghost haunting the center and then fill the rooms with scary imagery and props. The finished product drew massive crowds. Dugas said that the kids not only had fun, but showed their aptitude for taking charge, too.
“On the haunted house, the kids did everything. They met up there, they planned it, it was their baby. Jeremy was there to assist,” she said. “It gave them something to own and be responsible for.”