After more than 15 years of back-and-forth between local leadership and the Uniondale Neighborhood Center, Uniondale is finally getting its own official community center.
Located at 925 Jerusalem Ave., the new community center was constructed as part of the 2017 Community Benefits Agreement — a contract between real estate developer Engel Burman, Nassau University Medical Center, and the Uniondale community itself. The idea was to ensure the development of a new community center, represented by the Uniondale Neighborhood Center.
The community benefits agreement was first proposed in 2008 by current neighborhood center president David Greaves. For him, a community hub is significant, noting that without one, there is a lacking resource in Uniondale. It also can serve many different needs of this community at once.
“Given the scarcity of consistent, accessible activities for both youth and families in our community, the introduction of a community center would significantly improve community resources," Greaves said.
The Neighborhood Center began negotiating with NUMC prior to 2008, with the medical center eventually agreeing on a $2 million investment to build a new facility that would allow the neighborhood center to move from its current headquarters in a house located at 806 Jerusalem Ave., into a commercial location.
After what Greaves describes as a long finalization process, the Community Benefits Agreement was finally signed in 2017.
However, there are concerns some of the provisions in the agreement may not be completely fulfilled. Despite the center being built nearly four years ago, Greaves says he did not receive the keys to the building until just a couple weeks ago.
“It's been a struggle trying to get on the same page,” Greaves said. "It's been very difficult for me to actually know exactly what the intentions were and whether their intentions were aligned with ours."
Although it has been a frustrating process, Greaves added, he says he’s not complaining and is grateful the community now has their center.
In the past, Burman has said he is committed to fulfilling all the promises made under the agreement, blaming the delays on factors such as Covid-19, which has disrupted construction projects across the country. Burman also cited the difficulty of finding qualified construction workers in the area, and the long and lengthy process to obtain permits from the town, as well as legal barriers he says he is working to overcome.
Despite these struggles and miscommunications, Greaves — who is not paid for his work as president — said his main focus is on serving the community and bringing everyone in Uniondale together. He plans to offer a plethora of services to not only Uniondale’s young people, but community members of all ages.
Greaves also wants to collaborate and make the building available for different community organizations to host meetings, such as the Uniondale Chamber of Commerce and the Nostrand Gardens Civic Association.
The center also plans to host summer camps, after-school and educational programs, workforce preparedness courses for different industries, music initiatives, faith programs, health and wellness, sports leagues — now that they control a large field in the back of the facility — among others.
But one of the most important endeavors to Greaves, is the center’s construction of a “diverse history library,” which he describes as a cultural archive and information center that celebrates Black, Hispanic, and the cultures of other minorities so peoples of various backgrounds can have a better understanding of each other.
“This will celebrate not just Blacks and Hispanics, this will celebrate all races,” he said. “And especially since the community is so mixed with Haitians and West Indians and so on, I want to do more for a level of that understanding.”
Greaves, who is West Indian himself, explains this will involve having an actual library with books about topics on history, Black and brown inventors and excellence, as well as hosting seminars and guest speakers on different topics such as ethnicity, pride, history, success and achievement.
This idea, he said, came from Esperanza Quezada, a neighborhood center board member who died last year. Greaves wants to name the library in her memory.
“I plan to fulfill her dream, the idea she gave me, and get that done,” Greaves said. “And I'm going to dedicate it in her name.”
There is no official date quite yet for the center to open its doors to the public, but Greaves says they are aiming for late August.
In the meantime, to learn more about the Uniondale Neighborhood Center, visit ByrnCenter.org.