By Erik Cassano
Situated on a hilltop in O’Hara Township, the Lauri Ann West Community Center has been serving as a hub for community activities and events since it opened four years ago. But the organization itself goes back much further, to when it was founded in the old Boyd Elementary School building 30 years ago.
As the surrounding area developed, the need for additional space and amenities grew. To meet that need, the Center’s leadership launched a capital campaign to build a new space with more indoor square footage and outdoor acreage.
“The new Center was a result of a great partnership between public and private donations,” says Executive Director Keith Fenton (pictured above). “Before, we could accommodate maybe 20 to 25 kids per day in our after-school program; now we can accommodate more than double that. The new Center allows us to meet a broader range of needs.”
The previous location offered a wide range of classes and programs, but with its new location, the Center—named for an 8-year-old girl who in 1966 fell on the playground on the property and died three days later—sought to expand its offerings.
“Our mission statement is that we build connections, expand horizons, and impact lives by providing a place to learn and grow,” Fenton says. “I am always thinking about ways we can make that happen.”
The key to expansion for Fenton and his team has been building relationships, both inside and outside the organization.
“We explore a lot of potential partnerships,” Fenton says. “We’re always looking at which groups have a need, be it sports teams, camps, senior groups, or other community organizations.”
Internally, Fenton empowers his staff of 35 to 40 full- and part-time employees to generate new ideas for programs and events.
“We have a really talented group of people,” Fenton says. “I’m always leaning on them for ideas about how we can continue to expand what we’re providing. And we make those decisions not based solely on money but for the benefit of the community.”
The result has been an expanded, more diverse selection of programs and classes, attracting more people to the Center. From summer camps and sports activities for kids and teens, to SilverSneakers classes and other offerings for seniors, and fitness center members and bridge players, the Lauri Ann West Community Center serves thousands of people each month.
“We play a key role in bringing people together from different age groups and interests,” Fenton says. “Our fitness visitors alone average between 10,500 and 11,000 visitors per month, and this past January, we set a record with our first 12,000-visitor month.”
Looking into the future
The Center’s growth strategy has been so successful that even the new location sometimes has capacity issues. It’s a good problem for Fenton and his staff to have, but it requires some logistical juggling.
“If, for instance, it rains and forces some groups inside that would normally be outdoors, we might have to move things around,” he says. “We want to be fair with our use of space, but we also want to maintain a positive experience for everyone.”
As demand for the Center’s services continues to grow, it will eventually need to grow its physical footprint. It’s something Fenton is already thinking about.
“We’ve worked with the board on a three- to five-year strategic plan and vision, examining possible avenues for expansion and the associated cost,” he says. “Some of our programs are nearing maximum capacity, and we don’t want to get to the point where we have to limit members or services because of space.
“We want to make sure we’re maximizing the space we have, because a lot of people and organizations worked hard to make this Center a reality. But we always want to be able to fulfill our mission of impacting as many people as possible.”
Huntington’s involvement with the Lauri Ann West Community Center dates to the capital campaign that funded the construction of the Center’s new building in 2015.
“Huntington was one of the primary corporate donors for the project,” says Keith Fenton, the Center’s executive director, who was a board member at the time of construction. “They have been with us as a supporter the whole time.”
The effort by Huntington to help fund the project made an impression on Fenton and everyone involved with the Center, so much so that, when it sought a new bank, its leadership looked to Huntington.
“We knew Huntington’s people from the capital campaign, so we scheduled meetings with them as we looked for a bank,” Fenton says. “We immediately saw that they are a bank with a very customer-focused approach.”
Fenton says Huntington is always willing to work with his staff, no matter the issue.
“We pride ourselves on being a facility that puts community members first,” he says. “Huntington is very much the same way with their customers. They listen to our challenges and work to help us resolve them.”
For more information, visit lauriannwestcc.org