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Thursday, March 10, 2005 10:27 am

Moving forward

Discussion continued this week between leaders of Ministerial Alliance and the Boys & Girls Club of Springfield over how to proceed with the construction of a new $4 million East Side community center.

Members of both groups met for an hour and a half on Monday to broach a wide range of issues, including the selection of a site and name and fundraising.

“It was a good exchange,” says Kristin Allen, executive director for the Boys & Girls Club. “It was a positive, productive opportunity to share, for the first time, how we see the process moving forward.”

Some members of Ministerial Alliance, which represents more than two dozen East Side churches, recently accused the Boys & Girls Club of stealing the reins of the project [see Todd Spivak, “A question of control,” March 3].

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin tapped the Boys & Girls Club to lead what began as a grassroots effort early last month, just before he announced a $750,000 federal grant to get things started.

Some ill will over the organization’s prominent new role surfaced at the ministers’ meeting on Saturday morning.

“To me, it was a slap in the face to Ministerial Alliance,” Ida Jackson, associate minister of Second Timothy Baptist Church, told Bill Houlihan, Durbin’s downstate director.

Houlihan defended the decision to give the Boys & Girls Club control over the project, citing the organization’s record of raising state and federal funds.

“You’re not going to build a $4 million building with $50 contributions,” Houlihan said.

Houlihan also encouraged the ministers to abandon efforts to create their own nonprofit group, called Community Center Foundation, to raise funds.

“It’s best to speak with a united voice,” Houlihan said. “If we have a Community Center Foundation raising money, it sends mixed messages.”

The Rev. Silas Johnson, pastor of Cavalry Baptist Church and president of the Ministerial Alliance, said he may encourage his colleagues to dissolve the foundation.

The ministers have requested that the building be named the East Side Community Center and not after the Boys & Girls Club. Allen and Houlihan, however, said it is likely that major private donors, such as the American Business Club, will be part of the building’s designation.

Members of the Boys & Girls Club and Ministerial Alliance together will select an architect and an engineer, as well as a site on which to raise the planned 40,000-square-foot building. Expecting that the project will require 10 acres, they are searching in the area framed by Cook and Ash streets, 11th Street and Dirksen Parkway.

“We want the building in the most socially and economically depressed area,” said the Rev. Larry Lewis, pastor of Faith Temple AME Church. “If you put it out in the middle of a cornfield, you’re not building up a community, and it’s not accessible.”

The two groups are forming committees, which will include other members of the East Side community, to handle fundraising and site selection and develop programs that will be offered at the new center.

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