On this cold, cloudy Saturday morning, about 100 supporters — kids, families and even a few furry friends — gathered at The First Baptist Church of Riverhead for a prayer vigil, asking for help in pushing the Church’s vision of a Family Community Life Center forward.
The center has been in the planning stages, in one form or another, for more than 20 years, and is seeking town board and zoning approval.
The Rev. Charles Coverdale, of the First Baptist Church, led the group in prayer, along with several other local pastors and members of the center’s planning board. They have started a petition, asking for the community’s help in gathering 2,000 signatures supporting the Family Community Life Center to present to the town board.
They hope to get those signatures within the next 10 days.
“Families are the heart of this community,” said Shirley Coverdale, the wife of Rev. Coverdale, commenting on the benefits such a center would bring to the neighborhood, including elder care and a place for young children “who have nowhere to go.”
“This is a project of giving,” Rev. Coverdale said. “What the church did is give us the land,” to use it to benefit the community, he said.
The proposed center would be built on the church’s 12-acre Northville Turnpike campus — and would include a gym, indoor pool, fitness center, community center and 132 “workforce housing” apartment units, among other things.
“The vision is inspiring,” said Riverhead town Supervisor Sean Walter, who voiced his support of the project.
“I want you all to come to town board meetings to speak about this,” Mr. Walter said to the crowd. “This is going to happen,” he said, placing his hand on a Bible.
“It seems like we have lost the YMCA,” Mr. Walter said after the vigil. “This would fill that niche. The young folks, we need more for them here.”
Curtis Highsmith Jr., vice-chair of the Southampton Community Housing and Development Corp. and Riverhead High School graduate, told supporters about a recent field trip he took with Southampton, Riverhead, and Central Islip youths.
“I have heard the stories about kids that said institutions [like this] saved their lives,” because they offer an opportunity to “see the future past their own circumstances,” he said.
“There are men who don’t know how to tie a proper tie,” Mr. Highsmith said. “When you have an organization like this, we can mentor them and enable them, show them that there are opportunities.”
Mr. Walter said he is going reach out to YMCA donors, “and see if it can happen.”
“We need this [center] to be able to galvanize, and have a place to connect,” said Rev. Marvin Dozier of Unity Baptist Church in Mattituck. “We can connect our generations and have a place to learn, play, worship, and grow together.”
“Can’t you see the building,” said Mary Miles, Sunday School director for the First Baptist Church, standing on the land set aside for the proposed Center. “Look behind me, it’s there.”
Rev. Michael Jackson of Triune Baptist Church Sag Harbor, Rev. Henry Faison Jr. of First Baptist Church of Southampton, Rev. Frank Bryant of First Baptist Church of Bridgehampton, and Asst. Pastor Cynthia Liggon of First Baptist Church of Riverhead also offered words of hope.
The project was discussed before the Town Board last year, where board members raised concerns about the number of housing units proposed and whether the project would be tax exempt.