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Yvonne Richardson Community Center breaks ground on expansion, improvement project

Projection for the improved Yvonne Richardson Community Center.
City of Fayetteville
Projection for the improved Yvonne Richardson Community Center.

Last Friday, Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan kicked off the groundbreaking ceremony for the Yvonne Richardson Community Center's new expansion.

“My friends, this expansion will enable us to serve more youth, teens, and adults, and provide new opportunities for our community,” he said. “This place, my friends, sometimes gives people some hope where they don’t even think they’ve got a prayer.”

Despite the June heat, a crowd of community members, city staff, and a gaggle of YRCC summer campers filled the center’s parking lot on East Rock Street in Fayetteville for the event.

Allison Jumper, director of parks, natural resources, and cultural affairs for the city of Fayetteville, said the expansion is funded through a $1 million bond issue approved by voters in 2019 and a matching grant from the Walton Family Foundation.

“This has been a project that has sort of been in the making for a long time,” she said. “And so the expansion is going to include a teaching kitchen and multipurpose room, teaching rooms, and also a gym floor replacement.”

The YRCC, which offers programming for underserved families, was built in 1996 with funds from former University of Arkansas men’s basketball coach Nolan Richardson and named for his daughter Yvonne. The 10,000-square-foot center is operated and staffed by the city’s parks and recreation department. Josh Lainfiesta, the YRCC’s director, said this new 3,800-square-foot expansion and improvement project was led by those who use the center.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of feedback, a lot of input from multiple sources, staff, volunteers, the community, our campers and kids who come to the center regularly,” he said. “And we came back with what the community wanted, and one of the main things they wanted was a kitchen. So that’s one of the items. One of the main things the community has been asking for for a long time is a hardwood gym floor. So that’s coming in as well.”

He said the center has around 80 kids in its summer program right now and during the school year it provides services to an average of 50 kids a day. The hope is to expand that to even more people.

“The grand vision is to help and serve as many people as possible,” Lainfiesta said. “And have a wide variety of activities for everybody.”

Standing under the shade of a white canopy with a group of day camp kids is T’Essence Long, a recreation program manager for the YRCC. Long started at the center in February of this year. She said in that short time she has seen how important this center is for the broader community.

“This is where lots of kids learn to read,” she said. “This is where friendships start. This is where we gain bonds, partnerships with people in the community that we may have never run into before.”

She said the expansion will help the center take on more kids and families and draw the support of more people in Fayetteville.

“As you can see today, the kids that we have here, they’re our summer camp kiddos,” she said. “Some of these kids have been here since, I’ll say, maybe three to four years ago. So some of these kids that we see as junior counselors, they started here as campers. So it’s special, not only to me, but it’s special to them as well, because this is home to them. This is most definitely home.”

Today’s groundbreaking is not just for the YRCC. Alison Jumper said some funding from this project will also go to developing the one-half-acre Ralph “Buddy” Hayes Park just south of the YRCC.

“It’s sort of this little hidden gem of a green space,” she said. “It’s small, but we’re going to make improvements there so that people can access the creek. We’ll be doing some stream restoration work, adding some seating areas, adding parking along the street, and then connecting it with a robust crosswalk to access the center.”

The park is named for Ralph Buddy Hayes, a jazz and blues musician who lived in the neighborhood and was known as the “Mayor of Dickson Street” from the 1930s to 60s.

Jumper said all of these projects demonstrate the city’s commitment to offering quality service for everyone in the city.

“So, this center serves the whole city,” she said. “But specifically was built to serve residents in this neighborhood who have historically been underserved. So that’s really important for us too.”

According to the city, a total of $2.6 million will be spent on the project with construction to begin this week. Jumper said she expects the expansion to be complete within the next 18 months.

Ozarks at Large transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. The authoritative record of KUAF programming is the audio record.

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Daniel Caruth is KUAF's Morning Edition host and reporter for Ozarks at Large<i>.</i>
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