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The Warehouse prepares to open its doors to Wilmington teens

Larry Nagengast
Delaware Public Media

The first piece of the expansive REACH Riverside community revitalization project is nearly set to open its doors on Wilmington’s East Side.

The Warehouse – billed as community space “For Teens, By Teens” – could be ready as soon as next month.

Contributor Larry Nagengast takes a closer look at the facility and what its programming will look like.

With its opening about two months away, dozens of teenagers and adult volunteers pitched in Monday at The Warehouse, helping to paint a mural in the teen center’s art room and sprucing up both the building and the area outside the property on Wilmington’s East Side.

Housed in the former home of the defunct Prestige Academy charter school at 12th and Thatcher streets, The Warehouse will be the first piece of the massive REACH Riverside community revitalization project to come to life. Organizers expect its doors to open officially in early spring.


Credit Larry Nagengast / Delaware Public Media
Delaware Public Media
Students working at The Warehouse in front of completed art room mural, with mural designer Jannah Williams (center, in denim jacket).

“This is going to be amazing, great for the youth,” said artist Jannah Williams, who designed and planned the mural and then spent two hours Monday morning guiding teams of students through the painting process.

With its bright colors, three clenched fists and an image of the Rev. Dr. Martin King Jr., the mural, roughly 12 feet high and 24 feet long, symbolizes the strength, hope and spirit of the teenagers who are already talking about the building becoming their second home.

“This is my whole life. I feel like I built this. I’m going to be here the whole time,” says Zorah Rothwell, a 16-year-old junior at Mount Pleasant High School who has been part of the group that began making plans for the center in the summer of 2018.

As Rothwell ticks off the work she and her peers have done, it’s easy to see the relevance of the project’s motto: “For Teens, by Teens.”

Those activities included meeting with architects, touring the Riverside area to get a better understanding of community needs, making presentations to Gov. John Carney and the General Assembly’s Black Caucus, participating in a press conference, meeting with state officials and leaders of nonprofit organizations to discuss programming ideas, and participating in a summer youth pilot program.

“We had a lot of challenges,” says Khi’Aire Martin, an 18-year-old senior at Howard Career Center who had to learn how to become comfortable with public speaking to prepare for the press conference and meetings with government leaders. “We also had to learn how to work together, to accept each other’s views,” he says.

“’For Teens, By Teens,’ that’s very important,” adds Anaya Patterson, also a 16-year-old junior from Mount Pleasant. “We get to make a lot of decisions. We have input in what can happen. Just being involved is very important.”

The idea for The Warehouse originated with Logan Herring, executive director of the Kingswood Community Center, who recognized that many organizations, including his own, were offering supervised after-school programming for children in the elementary grades, options for teenagers were largely limited to going home alone or hanging out on the streets.

"We get to make a lot of decisions. We have input in what can happen. Just being involved is very important. - Anaya Patterson, 16-year-old Mount Pleasant H.S. junior

The alternative Herring envisioned would address three key concerns of teenagers – violence in the city, supporting academics and promoting career readiness – while offering a diverse menu of recreational, educational, arts, career and health programming.

Herring pitched the concept to Reinventing Delaware, a program of the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation, and the idea generated instant support.

At the start, The Warehouse was envisioned as a collaboration among three to five agencies, primarily to serve teens living in and around Riverside, a low-income neighborhood bounded on the south by the Brandywine and on the west by North East Boulevard. It soon scaled up to have 20 to 30 partnering organizations, and now that total has grown to 136, and the plan is to make services available to all teens living in Wilmington, Herring says.

Organizers raised about $8 million to get the project off the ground, with $1 million from ChristianaCare and six-figure grants from the Longwood Foundation, WSFS Bank and CSC, according to Melody Phillips, director of operations at The Warehouse. Capital One Bank, left holding the mortgage after Prestige Academy shut down, donated the school building early last year.

Phillips says The Warehouse expects to operate on a budget of $1 million to $1.3 million a year, a combination of state funding, foundation and corporate grants, and rent payments from partners that will have office space in the building. “We met our targets for 2020 and now we’re working on raising money for 2021,” she says.

When the renovations now underway are completed, The Warehouse will take up about two-thirds of the building’s main floor. Its features include a small gymnasium, an workout room filled with fitness equipment, a demonstration kitchen with a double oven and cooktop, a dance room, an art room, a theater, an art room, a career and education room, study carrels and a conference room. In the center will be a large gathering area, equipped with tables and chairs, where teens can just hang out.

Credit Larry Nagengast / Delaware Public Media
Delaware Public Media
A cutaway view of how the teen portion of The Warehouse's first floor will be set up.

The south wing of the main floor will be dedicated to office space for The Warehouse’s adult managers as well as for REACH Riverside, Delaware State University’s Neighborhood Revitalization Project, the state Department of Health and Social Services and Strive, an education nonprofit that focuses on developing character-driven leadership. REACH Riverside and the university project will be working with the broader community. Health and Social Services will be working both with teens and the community at large, while Strive will be offering teen-oriented programming. The second floor has been rented to the Kingswood Academy, an alternative high school program for at-risk students that had previously been housed at the former Holy Rosary School in Claymont.

In addition, nearly two dozen organizations that have their own office space in the area have committed to offering teen-oriented services and programming at The Warehouse during after-school hours. They include: Bellevue Community Center, Breaking Barriers, Christina Cultural Arts Center, Coded by Kids, Conscious Connections,Cultural Restoration Project,Delaware Afterschool Network at United Way, Delaware Futures,DreamChasers, Dual School, Game Changers, I Am My Sister’s Keeper, LYTE Scholars, Peers Mentoring Center, Stepping Stones Children’s Center, Tech Impact, TeenSHARP, The Green Beret Project, The1Fit, Year Up Wilmington and Zip Code Wilmington.

Another layer of partners will provide occasional programming and training activities at The Warehouse and offer referrals to programs they operate on their own sites. These organizations include Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware, DelawareCAN, Delmarva Power, the state Department of Labor,Girls Inc., Hilltop Lutheran Neighborhood Center, Kingswood Community Center,Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, Microsoft, OpenBracket Delaware, Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation, Public Allies Delaware, Social Contract LLC., United Way of Delaware and West End Neighborhood House.

Other organizations have expressed an interest in establishing a footprint at The Warehouse. The University of Delaware, for example, is looking into setting up a health clinic there, Phillips says.

Teens who participate in programs at The Warehouse won’t have to pay any dues or fees, Phillips says, but they will have to fill out an application and complete a brief orientation to learn the “For Teens, By Teens” culture. Participants will receive a scannable membership card to use when they check in and to access a schedule of programs.

At the start, The Warehouse anticipates serving about 250 teens, says Patrick Ryan, its director of programming.

“I don’t know how many we can expect,” says Patterson, one of the teen organizers. “It could be way too many, or only five, but what’s important is that we have the programming that is needed for the kids that do come.”

To meet its objective of serving teens from throughout Wilmington, project organizers are working with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation to test a bus loop that would make stops at various community centers, including the West End Neighborhood House, Hilltop Lutheran Community Center, the H. Fletcher Brown Boys & Girls Club and the Kingswood Community Center. As part of its $1 million grant, ChristianaCare donated a 15-passenger bus that had been used to shuttle visitors and employees between its sites.

Also in the works, Ryan and Herring say, is the possible use of electric-drive shuttle buses using vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology being developed at the University of Delaware.

Besides working on the mural, teens proudly took time Monday to show visitors around the new space they have helped to create. “It’s not The Warehouse without the teens,” says 17-year-old Tyler Davis, a junior at Howard Career Center. “We get a say so” in planning both the facility and its programs, he says.

Davis, who has been working on developing programming for the center’s health pillar, is also interested in its arts programming, especially the movie theater and dance room.

Rothwell expects to be spending a lot of time in the demonstration kitchen. “I can cook, but I could use a little more skill,” she says.

“Just walking in here, there’s so much to see and do,” Martin says.

“This is long overdue,” Davis adds. “A lot of people are excited for it.”

REACH Riverside getting ready for next steps in project

Not long after The Warehouse opens, an even bigger piece of the REACH Riverside revitalization will begin.

Logan Herring, CEO of REACH Riverside and executive director of the Kingswood Community Center, says he expects groundbreaking in May for construction of 74 new housing units on property owned by the Wilmington Housing Authority near the intersection of Bowers Street and Todds Lane.

Eventually, the revitalization project will result in the demolition of nearly 300 outdated housing units operated by the WHA and construction of about 400 new homes, with some to be sold at market rates and most as subsidized affordable housing units.

The first homes, most likely a combination of two- and three-bedroom units, will include 59 affordable and 15 market-rate, Herring says.

The comprehensive revitalization project could take a decade or more to execute, with initial estimates putting its cost in the neighborhood of $100 million. Other features include construction of a new Kingswood Community Center building, possible expansion of the Eastside Charter School to include high school grades, and development of a community-wide health and wellness initiative.

REACH Riverside (REACH is an acronym for Redevelopment, Education and Community Health) is now working out the details of the financing package for the housing construction, and that should be wrapped up in April, Herring says. Original plans called for a mix of state tax credits, government and foundation grants and private investment.

REACH Riverside has contracted with Pennrose LLC, a Philadelphia –based development company that specializes in mixed-income affordable housing, to develop and manage the new housing.

Purpose Built Communities, a nonprofit consulting organization based in Atlanta, Georgia, has brought REACH Riverside into its national network of revitalization areas and will provide free technical assistance throughout the project’s planning and implementation.

Committees created to address specific needs are already making progress, Herring says.

A collection of health and wellness providers has begun to assess healthcare needs in the area. Participants in this effort, Herring says, include ChristianaCare, St. Francis Hospital, Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children and West Side Health Care.

Connections are being built with the state Department of Labor and other agencies to promote workforce development – employment opportunities, job training and technical assistance. A staff position has been added to conduct outreach and develop partnerships with businesses along Northeast Boulevard.

Larry Nagengast, a contributor to Delaware First Media since 2011, has been writing and editing news stories in Delaware for more than five decades.
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