June 28, 2017

Jane Gandolfe Helps Open Community Center

By Pam Laughlin

Jane Gandolfe, a lifelong Martinsville resident, can trace her ancestry to Martinsville back 200 years and is part of the movement to help revitalize the Martinsville Community Center located on Washington Road, right behind the Martinsville Library. Her vision is to have the Community Center be used again as it once was in the early, early days.

Gandolfe has fond memories of walking from the Martinsville School to the Martinsville Community Center to attend gym class with her peers once a week during the winter.  She says, “The Community Center was established in the early 20s as a place to come to hold meetings, knitting clubs, book clubs, and fund raisers. This was really the hub for Girl Scout and Boy Scout meetings, plays, VFW meetings, and summer arts and crafts programs to help keep the kids occupied doing healthy and fun things.”

She says about the large upstairs all purpose room, complete with stage and curtain, “We had so many plays here and ballet too.  It builds confidence for the kids to know that it’s okay to go up front and talk to people.” New Years Eve parties were another popular event and would sell out in a second.  Gandolfe shares this, “When I was a teenager there was a dance here every four months or so and we would kill to go to the dance.”  Today she is thinking of making it interesting for the young, tween set by having events like the Battle of the Bands. 

The building was legally acquired on Nov 9, 2010 after two years of ongoing legal issues regarding the building. That first meeting in 2008 was filled with 150 to 200 concerned people ranging from age twenty to their eighties to discuss the fate of the building.  Today, people are still interested in helping turn the idea of a Community Center in Martinsville into a reality.  Jim Franco, a local Martinsville architect, has volunteered his time to help determine how to best to use the space and modernize the rooms for current use. Immediate needs include addressing safety needs, such as adding fire extinguishers and exit signs, as well as making the building handicap accessible with ramps and a small elevator.

Other plans for the building include using Gandolfe’s design skills and her ability to motivate groups and organizations to lend a helping hand.  A tour of the building included Jane describing the transformation that will be possible with some fresh paint, new floors and ceilings, and a good dose of elbow grease. “Having the kids help out is a great way to teach them how to give back to the community”, she says.

Jane relates, “Not all of the projects have been defined yet, but perhaps the Boy Scouts will be able to earn their Eagle badge by making a pathway from the Community Center to the library and the Girl Scouts can earn their Gold Star badge by helping make curtains.”  Vo-tech has offered to come to the Community Center and help refurbish the old stage. Jane says, “They have offered their skills and will be a great benefit to us.” Washington Valley Garden Club president, Alice Jarvis, agreed for the club to come up and help with the landscaping by planting flowers and help clean and spruce up the gardens.

Gandolfe even has visions of some strategically placed picnic tables outdoors so that people can come and bring a bagged lunch and enjoy their lunch in the fresh air.  Jane has reached out to local businesses for donations of office furniture, such as conference tables, chairs for auditorium seating, folding chairs and folding tables. They are still in the need of donations for this type of furniture and interested parties may contact her via email, at jgandolfe@yahoo.com.

Another goal of the Community Center is to promote local businesses.  Another volunteer is in the midst of redesigning their website to include a community calendar, a place to sign up and promote ideas, and a place for local businesses to put their business cards online.  Gandolfe says, “Make sure to check out the Community Center’s Facebook Page, called “I grew up in Martinsville” to read about local life in Martinsville.”

The Community Center has completed their first book about the history of Martinsville and received pictures and stories from as far away as Hawaii.  Jane is proud when she says, “It is going to be a marvelous book and people can reserve a copy of the book by sending me an email.  In fact, we are already thinking of a sequel because it’s amazing how many people are coming out of the woodwork with great photos and great stories. “

A long time Martinsville resident, Sis Longo (93), starred in many of the plays at the Community Center and saved an album with all the playbill covers.  Plans to turn them into postcards as a fundraiser and to use them as art work throughout the building are in the works. 

Gandolfe says, “We are really looking for a revitalization of the Center and want it to be a place where people really want to come. “  There are a variety of programs and classes in the design stage, both profit and non-profit, including Girl Scouts meetings, health lectures (breast cancer screening), cyber security, building safety classes, art classes, Internet classes, and more.   Other planned events include family movie nights, 2 craft shows and flea markets a year, a fall Kermesse festival (charity fair), clubs for knitters and bridge, and a place for seniors to bring their lunch and to hang out.

Currently, the Community Center has 107 members with an opportunity to reach 8,000 members.  This May they will be conducting another membership drive and are hoping to increase their membership to help create awareness and see the Center grow.  Interested parties may find out more about the Community Center and learn how they can help, volunteer, and join by contacting Jane at jgandolfe@yahoo.com.

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