When the city of Delaware bought the vacant building at 50 Ross St. in 2004, officials had hopes of improving the site to benefit the neighborhood.
With a lot of help from the nonprofit Second Ward Community Initiative and Home Depot, those hopes are becoming a reality.
Dozens of Home Depot volunteers swarmed around the building Thursday, April 17, to paint, clean and install new floors for the future community center.
SWCI board member Temi Daramola said she recently reached out on behalf of her group to Home Depot, hoping the two could partner through the corporation's Community Impacts Grants Program. She said her group wanted to make the building a safe place for the neighborhood's children, senior citizens and military veterans to gather.
Lacey Albrecht, assistant manager of a Home Depot store in Grove City, said SWCI was the ideal partner for the grant program.
"The minute we caught wind of what they were doing in this community, we were hooked," she said.
Albrecht, who formerly worked at the Home Depot store in Orange Township, said SWCI's project touched on many of the areas supported by Home Depot.
"We do a lot of work when it comes to veterans, safe housing and community involvement," she said.
SWCI President Stephanie Saunders said the renovated building will feature, among other improvements, a computer lab that will house tutoring programs, a kitchenette and a meeting room for veterans' groups.
"We want to make it comfortable for the veterans because they didn't have (a gathering place) in this neighborhood," Saunders said.
Daramola said the center will address many problems locals don't necessarily think about when they consider the city of Delaware -- from poverty to the scarcity of healthful food.
Albrecht said her team from Home Depot initially thought they would just help SWCI clean up the building up a bit. After communicating with group members and taking a tour of the site, she said the work expanded to a $10,000 project involving workers from seven area stores.
"When we got here and heard the passion behind this project, we knew that we could do better than sprucing it up," she said.
Harry Hart, a board member and one of the founders of SWCI, said Home Depot's involvement in the project was the answer to a prayer.
"We're blessed to have this relationship with Home Depot," he said. "We're a small, grass-roots organization."
Hart said the group's roots go back to the late 2000s, when community members started to notice an increase in crime and drug use in the neighborhood. He said a group of residents made an effort to reach out to their neighbors and foster a greater sense of community.
That led to the creation of the annual Community Unity Festival in 2008 and, later, the Second Ward Community Initiative.
In 2012, the city of Delaware began letting SWCI, by then an official nonprofit group, use the Ross Street building for meetings and programs.
SWCI hopes to unveil the new community center with a grand opening at this year's Community Unity Festival, set Sept. 27. The group expects to conduct a soft opening next month.
Saunders said she hopes the center will be open on a daily basis if SWCI can find enough volunteers to staff the facility.