There’s an oversized chess set on the second floor of the new Lee District Community Center that is used to show the importance of making the right move. Making the right move in life is one of the lessons stressed by the center’s Workforce Development and Training curriculum that this Mount Vernon facility will provide for students that live in the area.
“Chess requires patience,” said Crystal Woodley, an instructor at the center. “We use chess to teach kids how to think on their feet,” she added.
This was just part of the positive vibe that was in the air on Saturday, May 7 as local officials gathered with residents and others to cut the ribbon on a place where nearby residents can find opportunities and gather life skills. The building was originally the Mount Vernon Athletic Club and when it closed, Fairfax County purchased the facility in May 2020 with plans to establish a multi-service center in the Buckman Road area on the west side of Richmond Highway in Alexandria. The County made several improvements to the facility in the areas of basic accessibility, safety, and community use updates. In addition to providing recreation, the community center is also the site of the Workforce Innovation Skills Hub (W.I.S.H.), a workforce training and development center.
“Opening the door today is just the beginning,” said Supervisor Rodney Lusk (D-Lee) who was there with other officials such as Chairman Jeff McKay; U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11); David Levins, CEO at Good Shepherd Housing; Bryan Hill, Fairfax County Executive; Lloyd Tucker, Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services; and others.
Mount Vernon Supervisor Dan Storck (D) couldn’t make it because one of his grandchildren was being born; he was with family.
“The W.I.S.H. will provide residents with training and job placement in the building trades and in-demand tech jobs,” Lusk said. The center is the first step.
McKay grew up around that area and noted how it was not a wealthy area at that time, but as a child he didn’t realize it. “We didn’t have some of the opportunities of other kids in the county,” he said. With job training opportunities and a place to go after school, the area children might have some other options. “Maybe even change the trajectory of their life from activities in this center,” he said.
“It’s also going to bring us together as a community,” added Connolly.
Nearby resident Jawara McNeil agreed. “It will bring more interaction with the people in this neighborhood,” he said, “I think it’s necessary.”
“Creative ways to introduce careers,” said Woodley.
One of the halls was converted to a hang-out space where there is a mural done by Eddie Harris, an artist that lives in Alexandria, and college pennants on the wall for inspiration. The students could picture themselves going to those schools, and education is a goal of the WISH center.