Creating recreation: how the Holton Center works

Jerome Johnson (right) answers questions from VOICE reporter Corin Hemphill (left) about running programs at the Holton center. (Staff photo taken by Cynthia Booth, provided by Corin Hemphill)


The Holton Resource and Career Center is known for being a strong resource in Northeast Central Durham. But how do the staff at the center operate? The Recreation Assistant Supervisor comes to work with a task-oriented mentality and his staff is very devoted to helping the community.

Jerome Johnson originally from Henderson has been in Durham for 12 years. He graduated from NCCU as a two sport athlete with a degree in Physical Education. Johnson’s time at the Leroy T. Walker Complex as well as various recreation courses and community work prepared him for the Holton Center. “Graduating from Central in 2012 I had no idea what I was going to do after graduation. I saw that they had a job posted for summer camp counselor here at the Holton Resource center and I just threw my hat in and applied for it,” Johnson said.

In his younger days, Jerome Johnson would spend a lot of time at recreation centers. He saw this job as an opportunity to make an impact on the community.

According to Johnson, the mature adult and teen programs are the most popular.

“Here we had our mature adult’s farmers market which takes place every first and third Thursday. Which is an opportunity for our adults to get groceries, our food shuttle service, they’re able to get one or two items from each section,” said Johnson. “They play bingo every Wednesday. Sometimes they just want to sit around and watch the price is right. They come here every day.”

As for teenagers, Johnson says they like structure and are always looking for a place to hang out. Someplace away from home not necessarily somewhere they could get into trouble. Teens can come in and play basketball there’s Teen Night where the rec center is just for them. Hip Hop classes and Zumba are popular among teens. In addition to this family and youth classes like Karate are popular.

It’s quite often that some programs draw bigger crowds than expected. Special events like Whole Ton of Fun, a Fall Festival where people can do fall games and arts and crafts were expected maybe 20-30 people. Johnson claims the event drew in 100. When word got around Holton was doing special events for holidays things escalated.

“We had our first Frosty Family Affair a couple weeks ago where kids could come in take pictures with Santa Claus, do arts and crafts,” Johnson said. “We gave out toys that were donated to us, we had 135 people for that. So all right let’s keep pressing our luck with these special events. We had Kwanzaa and had 170 people for that.”

When going from small crowds to large ones in the middle of an event the staff has to change methods. Being a part of a Durham County department Holton can rely on the fire dept. and police but mostly the center uses its own very large department filled with part-time and full-time staff.

The center aims to do something differently every time. They also do research and see what’s popular in other recreational sites around the country. Holton does a lot of collaborations through their summer camp programs.

While it’s usually through a series of meetings most of the time it’s just through word of mouth. “We have what you’ll call a cooperative agreement. “What can we do to enhance our programs by what you have to offer us and what you need in return to help enhance your programs?” Johnson explained.

Johnson also reflects on failures that taught him something.

“We had one individual on the basketball team that I coached. And his mother had just explained to me that he had been involved in the drug game and she wanted to keep him off the streets. He really loved basketball.” While the young man was playing basketball he missed a practice one night. The rule for the team was that a player who missed a practice would not be allowed to play the next game. The young man missed a practice because he was running the streets so he couldn’t play the next game. Unfortunately, he was fatally shot that night. “I felt like it was more of a failure to me, because you know even though he couldn’t play that game we should have still had something for him to do. I also learned that lesson that if it happens on the job you can’t take it home with you. This kid had been here longer than I had been here and now he’ll never come here again.”

Since then, the rec center wants to create more activities for kids to do besides sports. Holton is even looking into taking field trips to different places outside certain areas that kids might not normally explore.

Johnson says Holton gets guys who have had run-ins with the law all the time. “We try to explain to them better life styles, instead of making those decisions you’re still young you shouldn’t have to keep down that path. But at the same time you can only say so much. You want to be able to mentor them but if you press too hard you’ll push them away.”

As for successes the community once asked for a fitness center. Holton had a game room that wasn’t being used so Johnson and his supervisor were tasked with reaching out to fitness vendors and completely restructuring the room. According to Johnson, the community loves it and comes to work out every day. Moments like those are what keep inspiring Johnson to reach out to the community and ask the people what they want.

Public Affairs Specialist Cynthia Booth agreed and said the staff there have really made a conscious effort to walk the community at least once a month hand out flyers to community leaders and form partnership with the school up the street.

“That’s what we recognize in order to help. People in the community have to know what they’re means are and we have to establish a relationship. They’re really good with that. And we have kids that have been participating since they were little kids all the way until they were adults and that’s a very rewarding experience, to have had a hand in the development.”

Johnson mentioned another young man who frequently visited the center and recently founded a lawn care company. “He stopped by here a few times last week, coming up with flyers for it and different type of client intake and things like that. He just remembers us being the professionals that we are and uses not just the facility as a resource but us as well.”

Next month Johnson hopes to have “Adventures with Legos.” When he was young Johnson used to play with Legos all the time and he sees the interest kids today have in them. The program will allow children to build whatever they want and take their projects home.




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