‘Opportunity’ center to transform Charlotte’s struggling east side

‘Opportunity’ center to transform Charlotte’s struggling east side

CHARLOTTE, NC (Mark Price/The Charlotte Observer) - Charlotte's struggling east side is getting a boost from plans to open a Center for Health, Education and Opportunity at the site of what is currently the Shamrock Senior Center.

The 6,000-square-foot center will open in the fall, at which point all senior programs will be moved to the nearby Methodist Home Park.

Organizers say the center is the first tangible outcome of a nine-month Shamrock Gateway study that aimed to find ways to break the generational cycles of poverty in one of the most racially diverse parts of the city, including many immigrant families.

Aldersgate, a continuing care retirement community, is the driving force behind the initiative and is supplying the center facility, which is located on the nonprofit's 231-acre campus on Shamrock Drive. Partners include UNC Charlotte's College of Education and College of Health and Human Services, as well as the Johnston YMCA. Seniors who live at Aldersgate will serve as volunteers for the site's programming.

In addition to children's education programs, the center will provide families in the area with access to community-based health and disease-prevention services.

"We don't think it's a stretch to call the Center for Health, Education and Opportunity a game changer for Charlotte's east side," said Tim Rogers, Director of Mission Advancement at Aldersgate, in a press statement.

"We regard it as our responsibility...to be engaged with our neighbors...Part of that dedication means making our entire neighborhood – not just our 231-acre enclave – as healthy and vibrant as possible."

The first of the new center's programs to roll July 11, with a four-week, all-day Summer Reading Camp pilot. It will serve 30 to 40 students from Windsor Park Elementary, a Title 1 Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools site with a large number of students from low-income families.

Teachers from Windsor Park Elementary along with UNC Charlotte literacy faculty and students majoring in education will work with the students. Organizers say the goal is to secure the needed resources to establish a year-round, permanent reading and teacher preparation clinic serving east Charlotte elementary students.

UNC Charlotte officials said in a press statement that the center is an ideal training ground for the next generation of health and human services professionals.

"It provides a place, but also, the conceptual platform required to yield the collective synergy to drive and test creative programming," said Nancy Fey-Yensan, Dean of the College of Health and Human Services.

Aldersgate is currently home to 350 seniors, but is planning a 62-home expansion, with a combination of apartments and villas.