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Port Chester Almanac: Carver Center

The Port Chester Carver Center has changed dramatically since it got its start in 1943 as a storefront, after-school program for children whose parents worked in wartime defense plants.

Today, the center occupies a 50,000-square-foot building at 400 Westchester Ave. and is the village's primary community-based organization with programs for children and adults, with a focus on underprivileged youth.

"We are a true community center for Port Chester ," said Kerry Walsh, the center's executive director. "We offer an after-school program, a gym and the only pool in town, an employability program, a food pantry, case management services... there's something for everybody here."

The evolution of the center's mission mirrors that of the demographics of Port Chester and the economics of the region.

When the Carver Center opened, Port Chester was mostly a middle-class town made up mainly of white European immigrants. Now, 70 percent of Port Chester's residents are first- or second-generation immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America. Also today, 60 percent of the elementary school children are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch.

The center, which is named after George Washington Carver the scientist, educator, inventor and promoter of equality for African Americans, seeks to serve the entire community, regardless of socioeconomic standing, with educational, recreational, cultural and civic programs. For example, the food pantry helps 300 Port Chester families and the fitness center offers membership to residents of any town.

Walsh, the center's executive director, has 25 years of experience managing and advising nonprofits. She joined the Carver Center in 2009 and reports to a 28-member, all-volunteer board of directors. Walsh oversees a staff of 50 full- and part-time employees, as well as 80 volunteers.

During her tenure, Walsh has sought to renovate the center bit by bit. So far the gym, pool and dance studio have been overhauled, and the re-opened fitness center already has 50 members. She also aims to expand the programming and plans to launch a revamped teen program in September.

The center's $2 million budget is mostly funded through private sources, said the center's development director, Elizabeth Cook. These include corporations, foundations and contributions from individuals in Port Chester and neighboring communities, Cook said, and to a smaller extent by government organizations.

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