Utica Neighborhood Center opens its doors to new facility
On April 24, hundreds of people came to The Neighborhood Center, Inc. on Elizabeth Street in Utica to celebrate “110 years of building a stronger community” with the unveiling of phase one of the Dr. Marie A. Russo Neighborhood Center Community Building and the new Mario J. Mannella Memorial Child Care Playground.
“While my name is on the building, it is the work of many people,” said Dr. Marie A. Russo, former Neighborhood Center executive director. “This is a place of new beginnings, a place where you are inspired miraculously to be someone different than you were a moment before.”
The new facility brings together services and offices that had been spread across several buildings under one roof as well as add a gymnasium and expand programming space.
The first ribbon cutting took place outside by the new toddler playground, and some of Mannella’s family were present, including his daughter who cut the ribbon.
This is the first playground at the center for the toddler age group. "It means the world to our toddlers," said Sandra Soroka, the current Neighborhood Center executive director.
After the cutting everyone moved inside the center to hear speeches by Soroka, Mohawk District Superintendent the Rev. Dr. Sung Ho Lee, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr., Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri, and Russo, followed by a second ribbon cutting and tours of the new facility.
The Neighborhood Center is one of the largest nonprofit human services organizations in the Utica/Rome area – annually “empowering” more than 30,000 people of all ages in Herkimer and Oneida counties, according to the center’s press release. Founded in 1905, the center directly responds to human needs. Today, the center provides early childhood education, youth development, adult services, anti-poverty programs, job training, adult education, nutrition, counseling, community development, and neighborhood cultural events.
Soroka said the Upper New York Conference “has supported everything we do.” She noted that Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb has encouraged local congregations to support and raise funds for the center, and the churches have answered that call.
She also said the United Methodist Women – whose predecessor organization founded the center as a settlement house serving immigrants – has been a huge help, doing everything from gathering gifts for the children at the center to stocking the center with crib sheets and other child care items.
“Together with our board of directors, the Dr. Marie A. Russo Neighborhood Center Institute board, Neighborhood Center alumni, Bishop Webb, the Upper New York Conference of The United Methodist Church, and United Methodist Women, we completed phase one and now invite you to help us complete phase two and open the doors to our new headquarters,” Soroka said.
The projected cost for the new headquarters is $6.2 million.
“There’s still a lot of money to raise, and we need support with phase two,” Soroka said. “This is the first time in over a decade we are asking for a little more help to make the dream come true. Invest in us so we can invest in the community.”