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Davidson Community Center Turns 40

October 5, 2008

In the late 1960s and ‘70s, Burnside Avenue became – as its name eerily foreshadowed – the singed backside of Morris Heights. A victim of the arson that plagued much of the south Bronx during that time, the neighborhood resembled a war zone more than a community.

To aid in revitalization, Davidson Community Center was founded in 1965 on the corner of Burnside and Davison avenues. Today, services include a teen pregnancy program, after school care for children ages 7-12, and specific initiatives to help families, single mothers, and senior citizens. ESL courses run at four levels, five days a week.

Oct. 2  marks Davidson’s 40th anniversary since its establishment as a 501-c-3 non-profit organization. Its motto: servicing and empowering the community one life at a time.

True to its mission, Davidson’s 40 years abound with stories of personal triumph: a young girl who was once in the after school program graduated from college, and now works for a Bronx elected official; a boy, 17, formed a dance troupe and rehearsed at Davidson, choreographing original routines, and performing all over the Bronx; a troubled teen uninterested in school developed a penchant for stenography, obtained a degree at a vocational school, and is now raising a family and teaching incarcerated youth.

Keeping Davidson afloat through the years hasn’t always been easy. “I have to take from Peter to pay Paul,” says Executive Director Angel Caballero. “There were times when I didn’t know how I was going to pay my own rent and bills.”

Davidson receives federal and state funding, though grants have been cut in recent years.  Caballero says he occasionally works part-time jobs on top of his full-time duties at Davidson in order to care for his family. During a rough “ghost-like” patch, the center could sustain only one other staff member, part-time.

DCCThough he remains the only full-time employee, Caballero currently receives assistance from six part-time staff members and a dozen interns. During his 33 years at Davidson, he’s held multiple positions, at times concurrently, because of staff shortages. He’s been a counselor, assistant bookkeeper, and grant writer.

Might Caballero’s juggling act and occasional one-man show grow tiring? He laughs, “Listen, I’m not here to be a millionaire.” He continues, “My satisfaction is seeing the kids smile. The way you treat a kid is a way they are going to grow up to be. You have to give all the kids a chance.”

Staff member Paul Bryant corroborates, “The children come every single day and won’t walk out, leave the building until Angel leaves. They’ve adopted him as their father.”

Bryant is the merchant liaison for Davidson’s newest project, the Business Revitalization Program, which provides long-term services to local businesses. The program currently offers financial literacy courses, helps with general business concerns, and aids in drafting contracts or addressing legal issues. The center is also involved in an effort to create a Business Improvement District (or BID) along Burnside, to help stimulate the local economy.

On Fridays, the youth marching band, La Ramitas de Borinquén, uses the facility to practice. The dance troupe rehearses in the same space. On any given evening, adults and teens sit at the tables or on the bleachers in the brightly painted multi-purpose room in Davidson, playing Monopoly, cards, conversing, or indulging in a book. It is a place where the community gathers, learns, plays, and grows.

“Angel is always open to the community. He never turns anyone down, “says Bernice Williams, chair of the Human Services Committee of Community Board 5, who uses the building to hold monthly meetings.  “It’s really an asset to have a community center that is so involved with the community’s needs.”

By REBECCA CHAO

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