By MARNIE McALLISTER
Record Assistant Editor
This time last year, four dozen children ages 9 to 17 gathered in the gym at St. Anthony Outreach Center to learn about basketball and respect during the center’s annual Basketball Academy. Later that summer, 118 children also attended the center to improve their reading skills during a summer reading camp.
But last week the center, which serves children in the Portland, Russell and Shawnee neighborhoods, nearly closed. It was saved — at least temporarily — by a donation of $50,000 from Republic Bank and a pledge by local businessman Charlie Johnson to raise $100,000.
As of last week, the total collected from that effort exceeded $25,000.
Al Saunders, the executive director of the center, said that’s enough to stay open for the time being. Johnson, he said, “is assuring me that (amount) is just the start. He’s trying to get 1,000 people to donate $100.”
“We need about $100,000 to continue our operations,” Saunders noted.
The center’s operating budget is about $200,000 a year, Saunders said. He thinks that if half that amount is raised now, the center’s other fundraisers —including a golf scramble set for September — will make up the rest.
St. Anthony Outreach Center opened in 1992 under the direction of a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Father Killian Spector, and a local prayer group that wanted to help children in the neighborhood. It provides activities and homework help on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to 50-75 children. And it serves dinner through its Dare to Care Kids Cafe.
Joyce Sullivan, who lives nearby, sends three grandchildren — two 11-year-olds and a 6-year-old — to the center when it’s open. One of her 11-year-olds, a child with special needs, donated her allowance — $1 —to help the center stay open last week.
“My grandkids love going down there,” Sullivan said. They didn’t like it, she said, when they were told it was the last day. It’s kind of like a family with them.
“It does a lot for the community, for the kids who go there who don’t have anywhere to go,” said Sullivan. “They get education and it keeps them from getting in trouble. You hear about kids getting in trouble a lot.”
Sullivan noted that St. Anthony is the only place she has found where her grandchild with special needs is welcomed.
“The several places I called, they said, ‘We can’t handle that.’ At St. Anthony, I explained to them about my one (with special needs) and they had no problem with it,” she said.
The center operates in the former school gym of the now-closed St. Anthony Church at 2222 West Market St. The parish campus is run by Catholic Charities, whose Migration and Refugee Services offices occupy most of the space. The center and Catholic Charities share the former school’s classrooms.
The center doesn’t currently pay rent to Catholic Charities, but it does contribute to monthly utility bills, said Saunders.
When the center was set to close on May 31, their agreement with Catholic Charities was set to end, as well. Now, the center’s board and Catholic Charities are in the process of forming a new agreement.
Steve Bogus, executive director of Catholic Charities, said that he hopes a new agreement will bring some stability to the center. For the last three years — since Catholic Charities took over the campus from the now-closed St. Anthony Church — “we were essentially on a month-to-month situation,” he said.
“We never did make a lease (with St. Anthony) because they weren’t in a position to do it,” Bogus noted. “We decided to make it work because we want them to succeed.”
Bogus said that this period of change presents an opportunity for St. Anthony to find firm footing and he would like to see a formal agreement established “so we don’t have to go through this process again.”
The center reopened Tuesday and its summer reading camp is set for June 12 to July 19, Saunders said. The camp is funded by the Brown-Forman Corp.