Groundbreaking ushers in new beginning for Mississippi seniors
Rotarians from Illinois, USA, join Mississippi dignitaries to break ground on a new 30,000 square-foot senior recreation center in Long Beach Mississippi, on March 12. From left; Rotarian Bob Kranz, Rotarian Brian Andersen, Lou Schorsch, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, Long Beach Mayor Billie Skellie. Photo by Kathleen Gott.
After more than two years of being forced to hold activities in crowded make-shift venues, senior residents of Long Beach, Mississippi, USA, will soon be able to socialize, play games, and exercise in a new 30,000 square-foot recreation center.
During a ceremony hosted by Rotarians from Mississippi and Illinois on 12 March, anticipation prevailed for a new beginning as honored guests Long Beach Mayor William Skellie, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, and other state dignitaries broke ground on the multimillion dollar center. The event signified a commitment that Rotarians from Illinois districts 6440 and 6550 made to help Long Beach rebuild after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The storm destroyed the recreation center, fire station, two schools, and thousands of businesses.
“After the storm, Rotary put Long Beach on the front burner and kept us there,” says Skellie. “Their work on the senior recreation center just shows that Rotary is a go-to organization.”
Past district governors from the Chicago area, Brian Andersen (District 6450) and Jack Blane (District 6440), collaborated with Mississippi Rotary clubs in late 2005, pledging to raise more than $100,000 for the construction of the new senior center, which will double as an emergency shelter.
The Long Beach Senior Recreation and Community Center is slated for completion in December and will house areas for craft making and meetings, as well as a cafeteria, two basketball courts, and a gym for seniors and local residents alike. It will be a gathering place and emergency refuge for the Mississippi communities of Gulfport, Pass Christian, and Pineville.
“It will be a place for first responders and a place of last resort for those who don’t evacuate in time,” says Long Beach club member Bob Kranz. A venue for first responders was desperately needed when Hurricane Katrina razed the local police station, he adds.
More than $3.3 million has been allocated to the center through grants and contributions. Chicago-based Mittal Steel Company donated $500,000 and will provide construction oversight. Other groups also have made contributions, including a $2 million grant from the South Mississippi Planning and Development District and a $600,000 grant from the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund. Donations also came from Rotary clubs across the United States.
“Were it not for the Rotary network, this project would not have worked,” says Blane. “Our hearts and our money were dedicated to this.”
The groundbreaking ceremony signaled an important and symbolic stage of a new beginning to Long Beach, says Skellie. He adds that he expects Rotary will continue to have a long-term impact on the community. “I applaud Rotary’s dedication to bringing this community hope for a new day. We’re sincerely grateful.”