Though the neighborhood around it has changed in the past 100 years, the New Bethlehem Community Center has been there to serve and improve the quality of life for the residents around it.
The center will celebrate its centennial Saturday with a family festival.
The event will feature inflatables, live entertainment and vendors.
The center’s alumni and friends will hold a more formal observance Oct. 21.
“They’re going to really be highlighting the memories and accomplishments and contributions of the center to the community,” said Executive Director Millicent West.
The Bethlehem Community Center opened its doors in 1912 in an abandoned saloon on Campbell Street. It offered a kindergarten, a girls club, boys club, mothers club and a Sunday school. In 1929, the center moved into its new building on Conklin Avenue, where it stands today.
The first black Boy Scout troop in Augusta was established there in 1932, and a Girl Scout program began there in in 1933. A Golden Age club for seniors was started in 1947.
These accomplishments and more will be presented during a video presentation Oct. 21.
Executive Director Millicent West faces the same challenges that faced her predecessors: how to keep the center moving forward to address the needs of the community around it.
This is not the first time the center’s programs have been in flux. Its purpose has always been to improve the quality of life of the community around it. It has weathered difficult times, such as the Great Depression and civil unrest in the ’60s. In each era, the center had to find its place in the community, West said.
West became executive director in January 2009 and said the biggest change she has seen during her time there has been in the way the community supports the center.
“I came in at a time when we were just about to go into an economic downturn,” she said. “The change I think I’ve seen (has been in) how much people are willing and able to give to support our efforts.”
For many years, the center’s primary focus was on children’s programs. It was a hub for a feed-a-kid program, partly because the funding was more plentiful and partly because there weren’t as many options for families as there are today.
“There was a time when there were so many children in the Bethlehem community that the center was full of children all the time,” West said.
Now many families are moving out of the neighborhood, and many of the residents who are left are aging.
Today the center still offers programs for children, such as after-school programs and a summer camp. But it also offers a community garden to provide fresh produce in exchange for volunteerism, a GED program, Narcotics Anonymous and a seniors program.
Each Thanksgiving it offers a holiday meal for the community, and it provides a food pantry and a clothing center.
It recently began an outreach program to distribute health and toiletry items and blankets to the homeless.
“We have to reinvent ourselves so that we can continue to meet the needs of the community as it happens,” West said.