Church campaigns for community center

Dr. Al Cresci still remembers hearing the warbling notes of the Skinner organ when he entered the Holy Innocents Church in fourth grade.

Years later, in 2005, Cresci, now the church’s choir leader, led the drive to refurbish the musical machine. Currently he’s working on the renovation of the church as a whole, and for the future, he envisions a whole new venture: a community center.

Holy Innocents could use the space, said Cresci. Currently, it lacks the meeting space to keep up with the demands of local groups. Organizations used to meet at Holy Innocents school before, said Cresci, but time is limited now that it shares space with Public School 254.

“It’s troublesome because of the finite amount of space,” he said.

Cresci plans to build the community center on a “glorified parking lot” Holy Innocents owns diagonally across the street from the church.

Judith Tolbert, an organizer for Brooklyn Congregations United (BCU), and Cresci are reaching out to Flatbush residents, local politicians and community business for contributions to make this vision happen.

“We could just put a steel building there for $100,000, but that wouldn’t do much good,” he said.

Instead, Cresci has contacted Custogeorge, Tooman and Allen to create a preliminary design for the center.

“I’m trying to convince residents it won’t be an eye sore,” he said.

Dan Allen, of the firm, is already working with Cresci to restore Holy Innocents, a nationally registered historic place. Cresci estimates that the project will cost $3 million to $4 million “to do it right.” However, Allen’s firm estimates that the total cost will come to over $9 million.

The proposed community center will be a modern-style two-story building with class rooms on the second floor, an auditorium on the second and a kitchen in the basement. The space could offer activities for the elderly, after-school programs for kids and an expanded operation of their existing soup kitchen, said Joseph Grannum, Brooklyn Congregations United’s representative for Holy Innocents. The kitchen currently serves around 80 families, but could feed 100 with the additional space, he said.

Cresci said that the center could also house English as a Second Language classes to serve the large immigrant community in Flatbush. Lawyers and accountants will set up free workshops in the center to help locals fill out their taxes and establish correct legal status, Grannum added.

Furthermore, Grannum wants the community center to host TEMPO, a computer literacy program for the elderly. The educational group brings in young people to teach the senior citizens. In addition, the program will provide young adults with gainful employment, the activist believes, and keep them away from the fast-cash lifestyle of organized crime.

“Seniors are speaking to young lads,” he said. “The way to live your life is not to get involved in gangs.”

The community center may offer nutrition classes for the elderly as well. “Old age brings muscle atrophy and slower metabolisms,” Grannum said.

A combination of volunteer and professional staff will make up the work group, said Grannum, and, according to Cresci, an all-volunteer staff will manage the hangout for grade schoolers and teenagers.

“You just can’t have people running around without direction,” he said.

The organizers said that the project won’t succeed without the help of Flatbush residents. To learn more about the campaign, call Holy Innocents at 718-469-9500.