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13th Av Dream Center comes to life (with photo gallery and audio)

BRADENTON — Crying on the first day of summer camp?

Can’t have it.

Camp counselors Everett Smalls and Shawn Samuel were holding a lively relay race for a handful of 6-year-olds whose shouts and squeals reverberated around the new 7,000-square-foot gym at the 13th Av Dream Center, 922 24th St. E.

The kids would sprint from the baseline to midcourt, run around an orange cone, race back, then tag a partner who’d run the same course.

Funny thing was, Jadia Holmes and Ce’Asia Cotton, the only two girls in the bunch, kept winning.

The boys would throw their hands up every time.

It was more than Toddrick Pollock could stand.

He covered his face and began to cry.

Counselors comforted him, reminding him it’s supposed to be f-u-n.

“He wanted to win,” Smalls said. “Competition is always good, but we’re trying to build teamwork and sportsmanship, build their confidence, build their character.”

Fitting words for the first day of business at the Dream Center, a $2 million, 16,800-square foot facility that, besides the gym, includes four classrooms, a computer lab, fitness center, game room and offices.

“It’s a great facility with a lot of great things going on,” said Patrick Carnegie, executive director for United Community Centers.

Eighty children were registered and ready to go Monday.

Some went to the movies for a field trip, others played in the game room, while others went to classes.

“You want to keep them busy, staying out of trouble,” Carnegie said. “Kids are having fun at summer break, but you want to continue their reading and math enhancement, keep them sharp over the summer. It’s very important.”

Center officials expect to have at least 200 youths using the facility by week’s end.

“We used to do 300 at the other site and a lot of kids are following us here,” said Drena Green, director of operations for the United Community Centers Inc. “A lot of those kids live down this end and go to schools we serve — like Wakeland, Samoset, Manatee and Oneco — so we’ll be busy.”

The building that housed the original 13th Avenue Center will be torn down for a grocery story, she said.

The 15-member staff had been putting in long hours to move essential material from the old location to the new one.

“We’re still trying to get set up, but it’s already awesome,” Carnegie said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.

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