For the past year, Nick Dobkowski has been using his master’s degree in urban studies from Eastern University – and previous experience at recreation centers like Clemente and Vare – to, as he said, “not improve but supplement the lives of the kids” in Francisville as supervisor of the neighborhood recreation center at 1737 Francis St.
What does the Francisville recreation center provide for the community?
We just finished our summer programming. We have a pool that runs from June to the end of August. Some citizens applied for a grant to make our pool very nice. We had some yoga classes and aqua Zumba. During the school year it’s a little bit more serene. We have an after-school program that runs to the end of the school year. We have a variety of sports leagues that use the courts and baseball field. A few different organizations use the field, Philadelphia Sport and Social, Philly Sports Network, and ZogSports – usually our field is pretty packed. Immediately after school, schools will use it. We have a computer lab where people can come and update their resumes. We have different events here. We just had a Francisville beauty pageant. We provide community services, sports leagues or the use of a facility, or even just a place to hang out and make the neighborhood more lively.
What’s the response from the community with what you have done here?
We get a lot of positive feedback about the pool. In addition to the pool upgrades, we have a new turf area. We’ve had some music nights and event nights. People have been really happy with how the rec center has looked and seem to be really happy with the programming overall.
How do you see the rec center impacting the kids in the community?
It’s a safe place for kids, where they can come pretty much anytime and play games or hang out with friends. It’s a place where there are caring adults who want to be involved and help students learn, grow and play. It’s an opportunity to have something meaningful and productive to do. Also an opportunity for adults to speak meaningfully and impact their lives.
What changes have you seen within the community in your year at this center?
I’d say overall people in the community are pretty involved in the rec center. I’ve brought additional programs; some of it has been me and some has been Parks and Recreation. They bring in additional resources to run soccer programs or basketball programs. The upgrades to the pool – I can’t take too much credit for that. It was the Group Melvin Design and Ben Bryant, Knight Foundation and Parks and Recreation that really made that happen.
What do you want the kids that are a part of this rec center to get out of it?
Really, it’s about successful life skills. The sports leagues are to help kids become a part of a team, learn how to work together with their teammates as opposed to working against one another, and how to have positive relationships with other people their age or adults. We employ a lot of youth to help out over the summer, hopefully teaching them how to have a job, be responsible and show up on time. I think there is value in having a place to play but hopefully we can teach them skills that are helpful now and in the future.
-Text and photos by Jonathan Bodack and Donte Kirby