The Holly keeps rising from the ashes. Yesterday, the new Nancy P. Anschutz Center, home of the Jack A. Vickers Boys & Girls Club, celebrated a grand opening attended by notables such as Mayor Michael Hancock, Phil and Nancy Anschutz, John and Paige Elway, and Jack A. Vickers; see photos below. Many police officers were also on hand -- but then, there had been a gang-related shooting in the parking lot ten days before. And just hours before the dedication, one of the biggest proponents of the project, Terrance Roberts, was formally charged with attempted murder.
Although none of the speeches at the dedication ceremony mentioned Roberts, there were certainly other reminders of this latest, rough chapter in the history of the Holly Shopping Center. "What I've learned about this neighborhood," said John Arigoni, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver, "is that it's the most caring, the most resilient. It recognizes the past -- but has its eye on the future."
Hancock urged the crowd to "take ownership of this center and the surrounding streets.... Let's honor the Holly Shopping Center."
That shopping center at 34th Avenue and Holly Street, known to regulars as "The Holly," was once a bustling center of activities for the black community. But it had fallen on hard times and was largely empty when it was torched in May 2008 by a carload of Crips. Within minutes, the center was reduced to a smoldering wreck.
The burned-out, 2.6 acre site was purchased by the Urban Land Conservancy in 2009, with support from Denver's Office of Economic Development. Backed by the ULC, the Denver Foundation's Strengthening Neighborhoods Program and then-Denver City Councilman Michael Hancock, residents of Northeast Park Hill created a community-wide action group, the Holly Area Redevelopment Project, to come up with a new vision for the property.
Roberts played an intrinsic role, organizing a clean-up of the site, creating a peace mural and also overseeing the installation of basketball courts there -- turning the area into a place where neighborhood kids could play together rather than fight. And he was on hand in February 2012 for the announcement that the Anschutz Foundation -- a longtime supporter of the Boys and Girls Club -- had pledged $5 million to help fund the construction of a club there. "If the Denver gang unit, with its sixty officers, can't solve the problem, if all the principals in the schools can't solve the problem, if all the parents and grandparents can't solve the problem, the Prodigal Son and the peace mural aren't going to solve the problem," he said at the time. "But it's a step in the healing process. It will bring more pride to the community. Now, all of a sudden, you're inspiring a whole lot more people to stake a claim to the community, to help out and really be proud of the community." Continue for more about the dedication of the new Boys and Girls Club and the charges against Terrance Roberts.
The result of all that community work, all that pride, was unveiled yesterday. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver had secured a hundred-year lease on the land from the ULC, and broke ground on the Nancy A. Anschutz Center in October 2012. While the Jack A. Vickers Boys & Girls Club is taking the majority of the space in the center at 3331 Holly Street, additional partners will also serve the community from the center, which includes a state-of-the-art gymnasium, a teen center, meeting rooms, a kitchen and workrooms equipped with computers, sewing machines and other equipment for the kids who'll be gathering here.
"The work we can and must do in our communities to ensure Denver children will grow to lead productive lives is of great importance. The need for this center and for organizations like the Boys & Girls Club has never more critical," says Hancock. "Many different people and organizations have worked to make this happen. Now we must get to work, creating change in this community and helping all our kids envision and achieve a brighter future."
Roberts was once one of those neighborhood kids. A one-time shot-caller in the Park Hill Bloods, he'd turned his life around and founded the Prodigal Son Initiative, an anti-gang youth program working in Park Hill. Westword profiled Roberts and the rebirth of Holly Square in "Up From the Ashes," a 2010 cover story; earlier this year, when Roberts warned that Prodigal Son was in a budget crunch, we called him one of "Denver's greatest comeback stories."
But now that story has another chapter. On Friday, September 20, 37-year-old Roberts was arrested just yards from the center after he allegedly shot 22-year-old Hasan Jones during a confrontation at a unity rally. Yesterday he was formally charged with attempted first-degree murder, first-degree assault, and possession of a weapon by a previous offender; released on a $100,000 bond, he's scheduled to appear in court on Monday, October 7.
Meanwhile, back at the 3300 block of Holly Street, the Boys & Girls Club will be open for business, working to keep the next generation of kids safe and off the streets, working to keep the Holly rising up from the ashes. Continue to see more photos from the dedication of the new Boys & Girls Club, courtesy of Free Lunch Photography.
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