Milford Community Center in danger of closure

MILFORD — Six years ago, Pastor Richie Portalatin, wife Mayra and their team at the Milford Community Center may not have realized the impact they would make by 2018. But that impact may soon be cut short.

The building on Front Street, formerly used by the Boys and Girls Club, is now for sale.

“Don Fisher is such a sweetheart. But he needs to sell and we understand that,” Rev. Portalatin said. “They’re selling the building, so I can have six months, I can have one year… I don’t know. But before that, we have to save this building because this is the heart of the Milford community.”

The price tag for the building? Tentatively around $400,000.

“We know it’s not $400,000, but we know that’s what he spoke,” Rev. Portalatin explained. “This building is effective. We don’t want to lose it.”

The Multi-Cultural Center, along with the church and nonprofit Hearts Unlimited, run a variety of activities throughout the year, including after school programs and operating as a Code Purple shelter for the local homeless population.

“We regularly serve 30 kids after school. Sometimes, their snack here is their dinner after school. We also have ESL [English as a Second Language], sports, computer courses, church, a thrift store… and people save money by using the store, that’s a big deal,” he went on to say.

The facility runs many of its programs through its nonprofit Hearts Unlimited. Other programs include a summer camp and basketball league which helps local children thrive throughout the year with free lunches and uniforms. A diaper pantry housed at the facility helps keep younger children healthy and dry.

Senator Gary Simpson said, “I regret to hear that the Community Center might be losing their building due to lack of funding. I think it’s been a resource for those living in poverty and I hope that they can find a way to stay open and continue to provide services to the community. Anytime an agency or not for profit closes, it can have a severe effect on those depending on the services they provide. Too many times, we tend to turn a blind eye to poverty, but it exists and the effects can be devastating. Crime goes up, families disintegrate, children suffer and ultimately the entire community suffers.”

To add to the list of charity work found inside the downtown Milford building, the group facilitated 793 Code Purple “stayovers” for local homeless women and children from 2016-2017, according to Pastor Portalatin.

Last year, they even housed 30 people from the Dover area displaced by the Firefly music festival.

“Just think about someone who can’t make it or get on their feet. They depend on us, and it will just be no more,” he said. “My goal is, within a six-month period, to raise that $400,000 to pay Mr. Fisher and go from there.”

The team also hopes to make necessary repairs once they purchase the building.

“This means helping others in need. Period. It’s a God-send blessing to have this building to help our community. We don’t do hundreds; we do thousands. There are many lost here,” Rev. Portalatin said.

Many of those lost come to the center from within walking distance. Without a place to go for help, these community members may find themselves deeper in the depths of poverty.

“We can support the entire 3-mile radius in Milford. It’s good for them. We take care of the poverty that surrounds us,” he said.

According to the United States Census Bureau, 12.7 percent of Milford’s population lives below the poverty level.

The Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates gives an even more grim picture of families with school-aged children, stating that 21.6 percent of children aged five to 17 living within the Milford School District are coping with poverty. This rate ranks fourth in the list of Delaware’s public-school systems, falling behind Capital, Woodbridge and Seaford school districts.

Poverty, of course, does not equate homelessness. But for many, neither are words to be taken lightly.

“To define the word homeless, it’s all but impossible,” Joe Gratkowski, a staff member at the center, said. “Being homeless is just a paycheck away.”

A quiet man who often works behind the scenes at the center helping with computers or other technology, Mr. Gratkowski, said he has struggled before like many others. That is why he feels compelled to work for an organization that gives back and often finds himself purchasing crucial items for those in need with his own money, such as heaters.

“The leaders of this building will give the homeless the shirt off their backs. I’ve been in their shoes; I know what it’s like. It’s a blessing to her, but I’m being blessed as well,” he said.

Without the building, though, those living nearby in need will find themselves in greater need, Rev. Portalatin contends.

“Where will they go,” he asked. “It’s harder here. You can never number the homeless. Homelessness is like a wave. No one asks to be homeless, it’s just a wrong decision. Even the most foolish person has the opportunity to make it right.”

Community members can visit the facility to donate toward the “Save the Building Fund,” or donate online at https://www.gofundme.com/save-our-community-center.

The center can also be reached via phone at 302-725-0770.

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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