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Ahmad K.Qawi, chief operating officer at the Racine Family YMCA, told Racine County Eye that this marks the first program where the YMCA has the opportunity to bring a program into a neighborhood as opposed to the neighborhood coming to the YMCA. He and a number of other people from the YMCA are already working on plans outlining how they will use the building.
Once an independent community center, the Bray Center shut its doors in the fall after it lost staff and funding. Jameel Ghuari, former executive director of the Bray Center Inc., told the Journal Times that after he got sick and the facility lost funding, they fell behind in their mortgage payments.
YMCA Board Chair Chris Leberfing and Qawi had separate groups asking in December if the YMCA would be able to take over the Bray Center.
“We both felt that if we had two separate groups from the community asking us to do this… it would be interesting for us to look into this,” Qawi said. “We didn’t say yes in the beginning, but we said we would look into it.”
Daud Ahmad became the board president after Ghuari got sick. Qawi and Ahmad have been friends for a long time. So when the opportunity presented itself, Qawi called Ahmad. Now the Y is all in.
“All I see are the possibilities,” Qawi said with a smile.
The Focus on Fathers Initiative, Young Leaders Academy and a senior program top the list of programs Qawi can see moving out of the building on Lake and into the Bray Center. He envisions talent shows, homework help, and a community garden.
“This will be a major information hub for the community,” said Quincy Harrison, academy site coordinator for the YMCA. “Like partnering with Unified and having people be able to ask questions about what’s going on with their children… just the 211 in the building for the community. The Bray Center has it, the Bray Center has it.. the Bray Center has it — from kids to seniors.”
As Qawi and Harrison spearhead efforts to clean up the property, the neighborhood has been anxious to have the doors open again.
“We see eyes watching us,” Qawi said.
While there is no final closing date for the sale, inspectors are in and out of the building. Once the sale goes through, the YMCA hopes to open the building up right away — at least for the children. Harrison and Qawi have been working with crews to clean up the building so that when the sales becomes final, they will be ready to open the doors.
“This won’t be a two, three, or four month project… if we could do it tomorrow we would,” he said.
After the building is the property of the YMCA, Qawi hopes that the community will come out and support further spruce-up efforts.
“One thing we want to do is strengthen the fathers in this neighborhood,” he said. “That may happen in different ways… but when a neighborhood has a strong male population that is working, then they are taking care of their kids and spending time with their families. That’s a good thing.”