A community center — thanks to a community effort

A sun-soaked community center opened last week in Red Hook, a minor miracle given its dire straits less than two years ago.

Back in 2008, the Red Hook Initiative was unceremoniously booted from its Clinton Street home after its landlord, the Police Athletic League, needed to reclaim the space.

Finding the new home was easy enough; raising the money to renovate a nondescript warehouse at Hicks and West Ninth Streets was the hard part.

“We basically had 13 months during the worst economic moments in recent history to raise $400,000,” said Jill Eisenhard, the group’s founder and executive director. If the money couldn’t be raised, she said, the only other option was dissolution.

But businesses, elected officials, and residents chipped in at myriad fundraising events, helping the group meet its goal.

Residents of the Red Hook Houses donated $10,000, a mammoth sum given that the median family income in the borough’s largest public housing development is just $16,000.

In an area Life once called “the crack capital of America” residents knew a good thing when they saw it. “Many community members wanted to ensure [the center] stayed open, because they have been there for our youth for the last seven years,” said resident Sandra Palacios-Serrano.

The airy new center, designed by the DUMBO firm super-interesting!, features a warren of smaller offices and larger meeting spaces. It’s environmentally sustainable, using soy-based insulation, large windows to reduce electrical costs, and passive ventilation to cut down on energy bills.

The group’s $750,000 annual budget goes to staff salaries and an array of educational and job-training programs aimed at stifling the effects of “intergenerational poverty” in the housing development.

Most of the 65-member staff — the majority of whom are part time — lives in the Red Hook Houses.

“Our feeling is that we are reinvesting in the community,” Eisenhard said.

Red Hook Initiative [767 Hicks St. at W. Ninth Street in Red Hook, (718) 858-6782]

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