Post and Courier
By Mary Steurer

Children looked on with curiosity as Charleston police, community leaders and residents met June 23 to celebrate a new community center in Gadsden Green.

Dubbed The Gathering Center, it’s intended as a hub for neighborhood meetings, events and an educational and recreational space for youth. It’s also a substation for the Charleston Police Department.

The center was created from two converted housing units turned over to police by the Charleston Housing Authority last year, part of a larger effort to reduce crime in the area and improve police relations with residents.

“We didn’t want this to just be another substation,” Charleston Police Department Sgt. Louis Staggers said at the center’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Arthur Milligan Jr., chief operating officer for the Charleston Housing Authority, said the center will be a place where police have more face-to-face time with residents.

“We don’t want the police to be visitors,” Milligan said.

Half of The Gathering Center is set aside for neighborhood events and meetings. It will also be a resource for residents — a place where they can go for help finding jobs, for example, Staggers said.

The other is specifically for children, featuring a lounging area and rooms with desks, computers, books and board games so they can study or hang out. Staggers said the center will also have volunteers come in for tutoring and mentorship.

After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, community members and visitors toured the new facility and mingled with officers.

Pastor Bobby Prioleau, a resident of Cross, has ministered in Gadsden Green community for three years. She said she’s grateful to see new outreach to the neighborhood, and thinks the center is a space residents — especially children — will rally behind.

“I think it will enlighten the community and give them hope,” Prioleau said.

The move also comes amid demands for more community-oriented policing and other reforms after the death of Jamal Sutherland in Charleston County jail in January, and George Floyd and others by police last year. The strategy aims to promote relationships and cooperation between police and the community members.

Arthur Lawrence, former president of the neighborhood association for the West Side, said he helped gather input from families for how the center could best meet the community’s needs.

“We’ve been working for years to get the center in,” he said.

He hopes The Gathering Place will help give Gadsden Green a police presence that will help prevent crime instead of just reacting to it.

Follow Mary Steurer on Twitter @marysteurer.