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Community Center anchors downtown Lovejoy

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

At one time, the large building at 11622 Hastings Bridge Road in Lovejoy was nothing more than an old grocery store. Now, nearly two years after the city of Lovejoy purchased the property for its Community Center, the facility is becoming a resource to the greater Lovejoy community.

Since its inception, the Lovejoy Community Center has served as a central gathering place for locals, and as a banquet hall for weddings, parties, and celebrations.

The center now has 10 computers with free, unlimited Internet access and a recently-installed library with nearly 5,000 books. It will soon have a new playground area for youth activities.

The city has made access to the Community Center, and many of the programs it offers, free to local residents. Lovejoy City Manager Sebastian Jackson said the city is preparing the facility to become a central information hub for Lovejoy's new downtown.

"The whole face of Lovejoy is going to change over the course of the next year," Jackson said. "This Community Center is in the center of our city. When we get this commuter rail, this is going to be an anchor for our city. People are going to be able to buy commuter rail tickets here, and a lot of our programs will be based out of here."

Jackson said by the end of the year, the city administration is expected to move into a new City Hall complex near the Community Center, and that the center will serve as a key location for community events. He said that over the past year, the center has greatly expanded its services.

In early January, thousands of novels and children's books were moved into the Community Center from a nearby facility to create a reading room. He said several pit grills have been acquired for barbecuing, and by May of this year, the renovation of an adjoining playground area will be complete and open to the public.

"The playground equipment was installed about a year and a half ago when the center was created," said Jackson. "It wasn't really taken care of so we are coming back to it, re-sodding it, isolating it [with fencing] and trying to make it a part of the community center."

Edward Thompson, coordinator of the Community Center, said more people are beginning to take advantage of the center. He said in 2008, the Lovejoy Community Center hosted only 29 functions, but since the beginning of this year, 62 have been booked.

"There's a real cry here," for services, Thompson said. "People come in here and ask what is this place, what do you do, and we take everybody on a tour," he said. "We've had everything from Bar Mitzvahs to baptisms, wedding parties, graduation parties, and baby showers. The word is really starting to get around ... we've had people from Atlanta and Fayetteville rent from us."

This year, the center also became a Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program site, where people in need of help with their heating or lighting bills can apply for federal assistance. According to Jackson, residents once had to travel to McDonough or Forest Park to apply for the program.

During the months of April, July and September this year, the center also will be a site for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Distribution Program, involving the distribution of 200 to 300 bags of groceries to needy families.

Lovejoy Post 1 Councilman Tommy Green said he would like to see more people utilize the center, but is glad that "the community has a place that it can call its own."

"With Lovejoy experiencing such rapid growth, there was a need to have a center so we could bring the whole city together," Green said. "I believe at this time, it is meeting a need. It's been a great idea for the community, and as time goes on, the council is looking for other ways to enhance this."

For information about the Community Center and its offerings, call (678) 479-8655.