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A Playground for Kids and Adults
EPICENTER is a Hub of Activity in Edgewood

December 2015
David Woods, EPICENTER Director,

David Woods, EPICENTER Director,

The EPICENTER at Edgewood bills itself as a “hub of activity for kids and adults.” That’s certainly the case for the community members of all ages who attend programs and events in the spacious facility by the thousands. But if the EPICENTER is the hub, then Director David Woods may very well be the foundation, the cheerleader and the glue for the Epicenter.

Created as a community center, the EPICENTER at Edgewood at 1918 Pulaski Highway, Edgewood, is open throughout the week for a variety of programs, including after school programs every day from 3 to 6 p.m. for an average of 40 to 60 youth picked up by the organization’s van. The facility is the Edgewood campus for Mountain Christian Church of Joppa on Sunday mornings and other group meetings for children, students and adults.

“Mountain Christian Church gave birth to the EPICENTER concept, funding the renovation of the facility and developing program to launch it in October 2013,” explains Woods, a former postmaster who has found his calling at the EPICENTER. Unsettled by the stigma associated with Edgewood, the staff, volunteers and participants at the EPICENTER believe that negativity is often undeserved and over-played, rooted in fear and ignorance. They are not blind to the challenges evident in Edgewood, but choose to make an investment in a place they collectively care about.

“We do a lot here; Camp Epic in the summer started out with 124 kids our first year, and grew to 145 kids ages five to 16 in the second with a waiting list of 58,” Woods says. He’s hoping to add another location to Camp Epic to winnow down that waiting list and swell the ranks of campers. He and volunteers work hard to ensure the summer-long camp is offered at an affordable rate with scholarships available.

epicenter_gym“We had one mother of three who tragically lost her home in a fire right before Camp Epic registration … she lost everything,” Woods explains. “She came in still smelling of smoke from that horrible fire to make sure her kids could attend camp and we were able to work with her to make sure that happened with scholarships. That’s what we do.”

During the school year the EPICENTER offers after-school programs with a strong focus on learning, homework help and tutoring. All children are served a hot meal daily and have time for fun and games in the EPICENTER’s popular gym at the end of the day, all supervised and administered with background checked volunteers and staff members.

But EPICENTER isn’t just about the kids, though they do make up a major outreach initiative. Here the community finds four core values: children’s programs, life skills, health and wellness, and recovery. There are Al-Anon and NA meetings every week and Overcomers for Christ for both men and women. There are Bible study groups, martial arts programs, Zumba, an Internet café, parenting classes and even open gym for the community 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the week. Jobs for Life is offered, and on Thursday they host the Edgewood Farmers Market from 3 to 6 p.m. Child care is offered during the programs, as well.

The second Friday of each month a Health Fair is held from 2 to 5 p.m., the hours of the event flanked by a free food giveaway at 3 p.m.

epicenter_girl“I’ve been here from the beginning,” Woods says, looking over the extensive list of programs the center offers and greeting another local resident by name who came in to use a computer and search for job opportunities. “I’ve lived in Edgewood since 1990, was postmaster of the Edgewood Post Office and when we opened in October 2013, I came on as Executive Director. We’ve built from there,” the Navy veteran explains.

“We aim to be a fun, safe, loving environment where kids can thrive,” Woods says. “It simply doesn’t matter what kind of challenges life has thrown at them. Even two hours a day has an impact. We strive to change the trajectory of a child’s path and do something positive in their life. We may not have all the solutions here, but we have great partners who just might.”

Along with tutoring and learning, meals and fun, after-school programs and summer camp, EPICENTER offers opportunities for new experiences for youth, from bowling in Forest Hill to Skateland to museums in Baltimore. “We’ve gone to Hershey Park with the kids and we took 180 people to Sight and Sound Theater, which was fantastic. They said they’d never had a group so well behaved as ours,” Woods adds with a touch of what can only be described as paternal pride.

But even the awe-inspiring trip to Sight and Sound Theater found its way into a learning experience. “The kids were mesmerized and since we had a donation of 88 pounds of Legos, we used them to have kids in each age group built something inspired by what they saw at Sight and Sound. It was fascinating that a 5-year-old sees the same thing as a young adult, but in a new way with a unique point of view.”

Epicente_computerThat experience at Sight & Sound has encouraged Woods to make sure another trip occurs in the future. But there’s also plenty of new items on the EPICENTER’s ever-expanding list of future goals and endeavors. Woods wants to maximize the use of the 20,000-square-foot space, with six rooms all named after local landmark areas, not only with programs, but as a community center hosting retirement parties, anniversaries, family gatherings and birthdays.

Woods envisions more music-related events and performances as there is a need in Edgewood and numerous artists whose talents could and should be celebrated. He wants to continue to develop programs to benefit the community and increase partnerships and community involvement.

“We are a non-profit organization and deeply appreciate tax-deductible donations,” Woods explains. “We don’t want a lack of money or child care to ever stop people from moving ahead here. That takes money that takes volunteers, that takes a community.” All people interested in sharing their time, energy or talents as volunteers are welcome, and no one needs be a member of any particular church, denomination, organization or group.

“What are you good at and enjoy doing?” Woods asks. “We want people to share that and become involved even if it is an hour a week sharing a strength, skill or talent. Not everyone is equipped to work with kids, but anyone can help serve food or help in other ways.”

As holidays approach, opportunities to show support for the EPICENTER’s programs and community are available by donating toys and gifts for the holidays or with always welcome financial support. “It costs $17 a week to offer tutoring to kids, though we charge $10, so even $20 helps to offset the entire cost and puts money toward activities, healthy meals, snacks, events and so much more.”

To learn more about the programs at the EPICENTER or how you can be a part of this hub of the Edgewood community visit and be a part of changing lives. I95

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