DeWees Recreation Center

Students walk past the DeWees rec center on Ivanhoe Road in Govans is up for a grant from Maxwell House (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun / October 24, 2011)

The DeWees Recreation Center, in Baltimore's Govans neighborhood, is one of the oldest in the city, and it's showing its age.

"It's really in need of repair," said Sandi McFadden, Community Leader with the Friends of the DeWees Group and secretary of the Mid-Govans Community Association, which meets monthly in the center.

The center, built in 1953, is now in the running to receive a $50,000 grant from Maxwell House through its Drops of Good: The Maxwell House Community Project program. Ten centers have been selected nationwide, and three will be awarded $50,000 each in renovation funds, based on online voting that began in April and ends June 8.

The DeWees Recreation Center serves about 100 children in after-school programs, said McFadden. Children can walk to the center from the nearby Govans Elementary School and Baltimore IT Academy. They do homework, participate in sports or enroll in arts and crafts programs, she said.

However, the computer lab currently has no working computers, she said. If DeWees wins the funding, it will use the money to "change this entire facility from just a recreation center to a community learning center," she said.

"We want to expand the programs to include intergenerational programs, which are not happening there right now," she said. She also noted the recreation center is unusual in that it sits on 14 acres, and the money would help create a memorial garden, with a portion dedicated to Kenneth Harris, the City Councilman who was murdered in 2008.

The Maxwell House program, launched in 2011, is a partnership between the Kraft Foods coffee brand and Rebuilding Together, a nationwide nonprofit that uses volunteers and donations to repair homes and community facilities.

Bonnie Bessor, executive director of Rebuilding Together Baltimore, explained that Maxwell House worked with the national Rebuilding Together office to identify 10 cities with Rebuilding Together branches and community centers in need of repair.

"We were asked to seek out the community centers in Baltimore with the greatest need," she said. "We visited a number of centers and narrowed it down."

Choosing the center that would move forward in the contest was not easy, she said. "There are a lot of community centers in Baltimore that have a need," she said. But DeWees won out, in large part because of the supportive community surrounding it, she said.

"I have to say that one of the things that really struck us immediately when we started to talk to the folks at DeWees is, there is an incredibly strong community surrounding the center," she said. "People like Sandi McFadden. That was something that really struck us."

Community centers in Charlotte, Houston, Detroit, Los Angeles, Orlando, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Minneapolis/St. Paul and San Francisco are also in the running. The seven that are not chosen for the $50,000 grant will receive $5,000.

The Maxwell House website has a link that leads to information about Drops of Good, including a write-up of each of the community centers. About the Baltimore center, it says: "A center as vibrant as the neighborhood it serves, DeWees has been building strong community ties through after-school education for over 60 years."

If DeWees wins, the money will be used to update the space with new flooring, paint and furniture, create a technology center, convert a weight room to a coffee house, and create a center for activities including book clubs and movie nights.

"That $50,000 will go far because we'll be using volunteers, and really get folks mobilized to make a difference," said Bessor. "Sandi and her colleagues in the community will make that happen."

On Thursday morning, 139,739 votes had been registered, but the number of votes received for each center remained a mystery.