HAZLETON — Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon will be among the ribbon cutters Monday at the grand opening of a building he believes will help unify the community — the Hazleton One Community Center.
The community center, housed in the former Most Precious Blood Elementary School, at 225 E. 4th St., between Seybert and Hayes streets, is an initiative of Maddon’s Hazleton Integration Project, which he spearheaded to counteract a sense of divisiveness he detected in his hometown during a 2010 visit over the Christmas holiday.
Tension between ethnic groups seemingly had increased as the city’s Latino population rapidly grew over the last decade. The illegal immigration debate heated up around Hazleton’s Illegal Immigration Relief Act ordinance, which would prohibit landlords and employers from renting to and hiring illegal immigrants. The law was struck down, but the ruling is being reconsidered.
Maddon believes that the community center will provide a place for children of all nationalities, races and ethnicities to interact, and that once they do, parents and other adults eventually will follow their lead. It also will provide an outlet for children and families to become more active and to socialize.
And there is plenty of room to do so, given that the two-story building boasts 64,000 square feet of space, with 20 classrooms, a gymnasium, stage and cafeteria, said Bob Curry, board president of the Hazleton Immigration Project.
At least 30 summer programs are being offered for both children and adults, Curry said. Among the offerings: basketball, archery, arts and crafts, music, art, family yoga and zumba. Plus, the HIP is partnering with the Hazleton YMCA/YWCA and the Hazleton Area School District to offer swimming.
Registration began Saturday and continues from noon to 6 p.m. today and Monday after the ribbon cutting ceremony at which Maddon and community and elected officials will speak.
“This project has become so dear to him that he’s actually leaving his team during baseball season to be here for this,” Curry said of Maddon.
Maddon intended on spending the night in Hazleton on Monday, Curry said, but because a game was rained out earlier this year, a double-header was scheduled for Tuesday. So Maddon will be flying in from Tampa on Monday morning and flying out to Boston Monday night.
Curry believes people in the community are responding well to the center. “There’s a lot of excitement, a lot of good will toward what we’re doing. I think, step by step, we can help turn the community into a city that we can all be proud of,” he said.