New community center soft-launches recreational and educational programs
When the new community center in Lee District — formerly known as the Mount Vernon Athletic Club — first opened its doors April 4 as part of its soft opening, the immediate neighborhood appeal of the facility could be seen. Kids on spring break wandered into the large, open bay door of the new multi-purpose gymnasium and started kicking around soccer balls. Parents headed to the main entrance and registration area, run by Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services (NCS), to sign up for classes.
According to Crystal Woodley, NCS’s Service Area Manager for Lee District, the center’s staff is using the time up until the facility’s May 7 grand opening to continue to build relationships and gauge community interest in various classes and programs. Rather than just offering sports and fitness classes like basketball, pickleball and strength training, the community center plans to provide an educational component to help school-age children, teens and young adults learn leadership, essential life skills and workforce development by teaching the science and math behind physical fitness and sports.
“You need to have both a passive, educational component and an active, physical component, so kids and adults are better off when they leave,” said Woodley, a former professional basketball player interested in the intersection of sports, fitness and adolescent health and development.
Among the classes being offered to participants are “Chess, not Checkers,” which will be run by the center’s assistant director, Roan Harris. That class is about the fundamental moves of chess and how they apply to everyday life. Another class, “Politically Correct for Teens,” aims to help teens learn how to address socio-political issues in a modernized “corner” debate format; that program will be run collectively by Harris, Ishmael Jabbie and Woodley.
Other aspects of the center aimed at younger people include “The Innovation Lab” — traditionally known as the NCS Computer Clubhouse — complete with laptops, 3D printers, products from VEX Robotics, and other mobile equipment for after-school and teen programs. The second floor of the building boasts a space known as the Highway University Lab, filled with green screens, 3D printers, Cricut machines and other devices for high-tech learning about areas like exercise science, digital photography and forensics.
Woodley explained how kids can use the various tools to learn about concepts like angles and velocity for improving their sports techniques, and to enhance their understanding of math and science. They also can learn how to read data to measure bodily functions like heart rate and respiration. The aim is to build young people’s knowledge of transferable skillsets.
The community center is not just for youth and teens, however. Woodley said the facility will offer adult sports, leisure and workforce development programs, family gym time, infant/toddler connection programs and adaptive classes. Above all, the center aims to provide wraparound services to create a complete setting for surrounding neighborhoods, with a goal of building community for members.
The garden space in the back will be used to teach the basics of gardening, as well as for growing herbs, vegetables and fruits that can be processed on-site into juices and smoothies. The sensory room may be used by breastfeeding mothers, and the former athletic club spa will serve as a serenity area, filled with plants and artwork.
The facility has “come a long way,” said Woodley. “It’s definitely a space to be proud of.”
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Eventually, the other half of the building that’s still under construction will become the Workforce Innovation Skills Hub – also known as “WISH.” Woodworking and welding studios, and other training facilities for skilled trades, will replace the former athletic club’s fitness studios.
Woodley described the workforce portion of the facility as an “opportunity to create synergy in a collaborative effort” with the recreational and educational programs that she helps run.
“Ideally what we do here prepares youth for the other side of the building,” she said.
The new community center — whose official name has yet to be announced — may be used at no cost by Fairfax County residents and for $100 per year by non-residents. Community members can view and sign up for classes on the center’s website or on-site at 7950 Audubon Avenue.
The center is actively hiring for a variety of positions, including activity facilitators, administrative assistants and instructors. Interested individuals can send their resumes to Woodley at email@example.com, stop by the center or look for full-time positions on the county website.