‘A proud moment for Pembroke’ is how Mayor Judy Cook described the official dedication of the new J. Dixie Harn Community Center and Miller Teen Center on Thursday.
Over one hundred and fifty community members and guests gathered on Lanier Street at the location of the 5,000 square foot facility. The center will act as the new home for the YMCA Pembroke Branch, the Second Harvest Food Bank, the Miller Teen Center, the Pembroke Jr. Police, along with many other community activities and events.
The building consists of a large community center to be used for meetings, family reunions, wedding receptions and other events. The J. Dixie Harn Community Center can be rented by the public for $300 per day. The other side of the building is the Miller Teen Center, which will be run by the YMCA Pembroke Branch. The teen center already has a wide screen television, foosball, pool table and more. The Miller Teen Center will be open for kids ages 12-17 years old Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and in the future on weekends from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. The teen center is free for all community members and guests.
"We are excited to welcome everyone to the dedication of our new community center and teen center," said Cook. "This center is a great achievement for our community. It truly has been a community project, that was a top priority for the council, myself and city staff. We have all work tirelessly to see this come to fruition. Having a place for our youth to go and opening the community center for the entire community to use is such a blessing."
The $300,000 project was funded through a SPLOST referendum and prison labor helped curb construction expenses. The cost also includes the renovation of the adjacent community pool.
"Having a teen center named after my father is truly an honor for our entire family," said Mayor Pro-Tem Johnnie Miller, who proudly represented three generation of Gene Miller’s family in attendance. "My father loved this city and he believed that we should always foster a positive environment for our youngest citizens. He would be so proud of this teen center."
Miller’s father passed away in 1992. He was the first African American to serve on the city council and served from 1984 until his death. He served as Mayor Pro-Tem from 1990-1992.
"I was asked earlier how I was going to dedicate two facilities, the J. Dixie Harn Community Center and the Miller Teen Center, the answer was simple," said Cook. "Mr. J. Dixie Harn was a very progressive minded individual. In 1983 he called me and gave me a list of five names and directed me to schedule a meeting for him to meet with these five men. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the lack of representation of a minority member on the city council. At the time we didn’t have districts."
According to Cook the group agreed and recommended Gene Miller as the candidate who they felt would represent the community well.
Miller not only won a seat in the 1983 election but he was part of a historic turning point in the city’s leadership. That year the first female council members were also elected, Mrs. Elvie Owens and Mrs. Virgene Hughes.
Many community members remember Miller as a representative of the people. His office was known to be the sidewalk in front of the old post office. There, he would listen to community concerns and meet with old and new friends.
"This building is a living testament to both Mr. Gene Miller and Mr. J. Dixie Harn," said Cook. "Both men loved their community and working with them taught me to truly love Pembroke."
According to Cook, the idea began approximately seven years ago with just a new community center. Then, Tara Jennings of Bryan County Family Connections and Pembroke Police Chief Bill Collins suggested that a teen center be incorporated in the plans.
From there it became a collaborative effort of several local entities, businesses and community members to see that Pembroke would have a place for their teens and youth to spend time in a positive environment.
Monday morning the Pembroke YMCA will kick off their summer program at the new facility with over 30 kids already enrolled.
"This facility is a great blessing for the youth of Pembroke and the surround area," said Tony Welch of the YMCA. "Three miles is like 3000 to kids without transportation, so having a facility for them so centrally located is great!"
Plans are already in the works for the city to add a new skate park and updated play ground to the park adjacent to the center. There is also a tennis court and baseball field. The Pembroke Community Pool also opens on Monday.