By Jamie Bennett
Star Staff Writer
CORNER BROOK When K.J. Lavallee first set foot in the Dunfield Park Community Centre, he had far less company than he did Friday, sitting among the dozens who packed the gymnasium as part of the centre’s re-opening.
Lavallee was just six years old when he became the first participant in the centre’s now-popular Homework Haven program. Now branded the WestRock Community Centre after yesterday’s ceremony, Lavallee has grown along with the centre over the past 15 years. He has been a student, volunteer and worker at the centre in the interim and is now in his second year in the Community Studies program at the College of North Atlantic in Stephenville.
Now 21, he said he is amazed at the road which has led him back to 9 Vine Place.
“I’ve kind of gone through the whole program and to come here today and see everything work out so well, it’s pretty cool,” Lavallee said.
The new centre represents a significant upgrade of the old facility, the original home of the centre before the location shifted to Ivy Court. With a full gymnasium, rock wall, fitness centre, community health program and a kitchen, staff at the centre now have a shiny new home to continue offering successful initiatives as Homework Haven and Adult Basic Education.
Now less than two years away from graduating, executive director Ben Fitzgerald said during his remarks Friday he can hardly wait to hire Lavallee. Fitzgerald and program director Steve Huxter are both men Lavallee admits were role models as he learned to rise above challenges in order to take ownership of his life.
Presented the prospect of being able to mentor children now himself, he said he would love to make his own, positive mark on the community.
“They’re like brothers to me,” he said of Huxter and Fitzgerald. “From helping me with my education and being there for moral support ... they’ve always been there for me. The only way I could pay it all back is to show I’m going to do something with my life.”
The centre’s new name was a closely-guarded secret of late and there were cheers of approval from those in attendance when Fitzgerald unveiled the new name.
Count Lavallee as someone who thinks WestRock has a nice ring to it.
“I was nervous and hoping it wasn’t something corny,” he said with a smile. “But I like WestRock, its got that strong feel to it. That’s exactly what this community is.”
The reopening was part of a $899,000 project by the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation (NLHC) and WestRock is one of eight similar community centres supported by the corporation.
Tom Hedderson, Minister responsible for NLHC was among the dignitaries on hand for the ceremony and said the centre is an important part of the neighbourhood revitalization, which has seen $6.7 million spent in upgrades and renovations since 2008.
“On behalf of everyone at the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation, I extend congratulations to the WestRock Community Centre,” Hedderson said. “I have every confidence this enhanced centre will remain the heart of the community for many years to come.”
Meanwhile Vaughn Granter, MHA for Humber West, said the staff and board of directors deserve much credit for the hard work required to bring the centre to where it is today.
“This wonderful new facility will help them continue their valuable work providing programs for tenant families and area residents,” Granter said.