FAMILY PRIDE—Rev. Glenn Grayson and daughter, Shinora Grayson-Johnson, stand outside the nearly finished Jeron X. Grayson Community Center at the former Ozanam building in the Hill District. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

Soaking in the sun and the view on the rooftop deck of the Jeron X. Grayson Community Center in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, Rev. Glenn Grayson said he already knows that the community has bought into the project.

“You hear all the time how material—wiring, copper pipe—is stolen from construction sites. Nothing, not one piece of paper has been moved here,” he said. “The Hill is reinventing itself. This building has been an eyesore since it closed in 2002. Now we have a community center designed to catch our most vulnerable middle- and high-school kids.”

The center, rising from the bones of the former Ozanam Cultural Center, is named for Grayson’s son, who was fatally shot while attending a college party on Oct. 17, 2010.  That date has recurred during the new center’s development.

“We bought the property on Oct. 17, 2011. We won $20,000 on Wheel of Fortune that went to the project on what would have been his 20th birthday, April 27. And we broke ground on the new center Oct. 17, 2013,” he said. “We will have our grand opening and ribbon cutting Oct. 17, 2014.”

Grayson and his daughter, Shinora Grayson-Johnson, took the Courier on an impromptu tour of the facility on Aug. 14.  The entrance, now accessed from Enoch Street, with its new two-story stucco and glass entranceway addition designed by architect Milton Ogot, makes an instant impression, as does the red, glass paisley “G” high up on the yellow exterior wall.

“‘G’ was my son’s nickname,” he said. “Now it stands for ‘never pick up a gun.”

With that in mind, in addition to Center that C.A.R.E.S programming for middle- and high-school age children, the anti-gun group Ceasefire PA will also have office space at the center. It will have four classrooms on the second floor will all feature high speed wireless internet access, multiple flat screen TVs/monitors, and will also feature NovaNET dropout prevention and credit-recovery programs.

One of the classrooms features a blue rectangle on one wall where members of the last Ozanam class said farewell and left white handprints in the paint.

“I made sure that wasn’t covered, and we’ll have another one painted on the same wall later for the kids from our first class,” he said.

The main floor features a game room with a pool table, an air hockey table and more flat screen TVs, as well as a massive 1,400 square foot conference/media room, which will also feature the baby grand piano Grayson bought at an estate sale and one wall that is completely covered in blackboard material.

“We expect 100-150 kid here each day, so we wanted this to be a vibrant colorful place,” said Grayson. “Kids that will say, ‘I ain’t going to no church program’ will come here.”

What many remember the building for was the basketball court on the bottom floor where future NBA and college stars once played in the heyday of Ozanam league games. That space will now provide, perhaps, the largest banquet hall in the Hill.

“We lowered the old stage more than two feet, and we’ll have a stat-of-the-art kitchen and sound system,” said Grayson. “I know people who had trouble finding an affordable hall for wedding receptions anywhere in the city, let alone the Hill. But we’ll still keep a half-court with one hoop.”

Though the center has received more than $1.5 million for its capital campaign from donors like McAuley Ministries, The Pittsburgh, R.K. Mellon, Eden Hall, Charles Sanders, Second Chance, PNC, POISE and Buhl Foundations, the Heinz Endowments, Dollar and Fifth Third Banks and others, Grayson said there is still an opportunity for individuals to contribute.

One dollar or $100,000, we’ll take whatever you can give, or you can buy a granite paver, either in memory or in honor of a loved one, he said. “There’s more to life than what’s in the Hill—this is about exposing kids to that.

“I intentionally wear Gucci and Louis Vuitton so the kids see it and see that I’m not selling crack,” he continued. “If you don’t make the NBA or become the next Jay-Z, you can still have the things in life you want, and we can show you how.”

For more information on the Center that C.A.R.E.S., contact Shinora Grayson-Johnson at 412-621-9612.

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