Donations of toys and games sit on a table as the United Way's campaign cabinet listen to Solomon McGee speak Tuesday, May 5, 2012. McGee runs the summer programs at the Westside Recreation Center. The United Way's campaign cabinet visited one of the program-supported summer programs at Westside Recreation Center.Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
When vandals broke into the Westside Recreation Center last summer, they dumped nearly all of its children's books into a pile and poured cleaning solution over them.
Now, after some help from the United Way of Chattanooga and the city's Read 20 program, the kids at Westside have 500 new books, plus upgraded sports equipment, toys and art supplies.
Site Director Solomon McGee said most of the toys at the center, nestled in the College Hill Courts and Ridgeway Apartments area, had come from secondhand stores. When asked when the Westside last got equipment, he sighed.
"I hate to say. It's been awhile," he said.
Assistant Site Camp Director Ronald Sutton was more blunt.
"The equipment here was, what's the right word? Garbage. It was trash, unusable," he said.
On Tuesday, dozens of campers at the rec center played enthusiastically with new dodgeballs and volleyballs. Even members of the United Way's campaign cabinet joined the fun.
And the kids noticed the difference with the equipment. The old stuff "was kind of messed up. It wasn't upgraded like now," said 12-year-old Michael Little.
The United Way has been donating material since April, and Tuesday marked its last contribution including the books, plus baskets full of baseball bats, hula hoops and sidewalk chalk.
"The kids' reaction has been unbelievable," Sutton said.
Rainey Barber, 9, said she's excited to play with the new beach balls, and multiple campers agreed that the new equipment has let them play different kinds of sports, not just basketball.
The camp at Westside is a collaboration, financed by the United Way, run by the YMCA and housed on property owned and managed by the city Parks and Recreation Department and the Chattanooga Housing Authority.
In addition to sports, kids go on field trips including visiting Booker T. Washington State Park and Greenway Farms. Parents of the 50 or so kids pay $10 a month.
The new donations already have made a big impact to campers.
"We play more than we did last year," said 10-year-old Tarik Herring.