“This center is the heartbeat of the neighborhood, and it has been that way since I was coming here as a girl,” said Odessa Tate, program director who spends her evenings and weekends leading after school clubs and summer camps at the Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center in Strawberry Mansion. “We might see about 150 kids a week walk through these doors.”
Despite major issues with the aging facility, the 102-year-old center is a second home to many of the neighborhood kids, who play basketball with Coach Ed Kookie Flythe, known as Coach Kook (pronounced “cook”); or do homework after school with Ms. Khadijah in the computer lab; or pick up fresh fruit and healthy snacks regularly replenished by the Recreation Center’s Advisory Council.
Last month, Rebuild awarded North Camden nonprofit Beech Interplex a $12 million grant to lead work to renovate, modernize, and completely redevelop Cecil B. Moore into a world-class facility. Following the announcement, Mayor Kenney joined Beech, the Advisory Council, and over 150 neighborhood residents to celebrate the kickoff of the community engagement stage of the project—marking the beginning of the renovation process.
“We make do with what we have,” said Coach Kook. “We do a lot here with very little. Our gym leaks, we have mildew and mold in the basement and I have kids ask me, ‘Coach Kook, when are we gonna get this fixed?’ They were asking me that when they were 11 and 12, and now they’re still asking me that as adults.”
Coach Kook oversees the basketball program, which is one of the most popular programs at Moore. The league serves kids ages 5-18. But that’s not all Coach Kook does. He’s constantly working to bring in new programs and keep improving the programs that exist.
Coach Kook is well-known in the community. He grew up going to C.B. Moore, back when it was known as Connie Mack Recreation Center, and as a kid he was deeply involved in the Police Athletic League (PAL) program. Now, he focuses on bringing that culture of high expectations and respect to the kids he coaches.
“Everyone who knows me knows what’s expected of them,” said Coach Kook, “I give the kids who come regularly chores; they’ll help set up for parties or clean the gym. During thunderstorms our gym roof leaks, so I’ll pay a kid to mop up the floor in between the guys running up and down the court.”
“I really get a kick out of seeing the kids learning and understanding,” he said fondly. “I love it when kids I’ve worked with come back and bring me their kids and say ‘this is who raised me’ or ‘this is who helped me when I was growing up.’”
“I’m not super special or world-renowned; I’m just the guy who’s always been there. Not everyone is gonna be Oprah or Lebron James but everyone can be a good person and always be involved in what their kids do. I’m most proud of that.”
There’s a camaraderie throughout the rec center. It’s among the kids, among the staff like Ms. Odessa, Ms. Khadijah, and Coach Kook, and that sense of community ripples out into the neighborhood. It’s the type of community that’s created when you weather a storm together. It comes from a shared feeling of responsibility to love and protect their rec center. Now that community is coming together to celebrate the start of their journey to rebuild their rec.
“This is such an exciting day,” said 11-year-old Joshua, who visits the rec center daily for basketball, after-school clubs, and just for a place to hang out. “I met the Mayor, and everyone is here to make our center better. This place is already great—I can’t wait to see what happens next!”