Posted on Feb 1, 2001

The distinctive wedge-shaped building at the corner of Park Place and Nott Street probably hadn't seen so much activity since it was, well, the Alps Bar and Grill.

Community leaders, elected officials, neighbors, and members of the Union community were on hand last fall for the dedication of the Ralph B. '29 and Marjorie Kenney Community Center.

But it wasn't until about two dozen youngsters arrived from school that the place really came to life. Downstairs, Amy Slabich '01 and her “little sister,” Latiesha Richardson, surfed the Web on one of the computers. Upstairs, Union students pointed to a poster as they quizzed a group of youngsters on the parts of the human circulatory system. Everywhere, it seemed, kids scurried through groups of milling adults to grab more punch and cookies.

“The Kenney Center is a valuable addition to this transformed neighborhood,” President Roger Hull said before cutting the ribbon. “Union has a long tradition of service to the community, and the Kenney Center, made possible by Marjorie Kenney's generous gift, enables us to enhance our volunteer efforts in Schenectady.”

Gretchel Tyson, director of community outreach, recalled her first look at the building, before renovation: “I could see up through the floor and through the roof. I said 'Yeah, sure this is going to be a community center.' ” But at the dedication, it was Tyson who spoke about what Kenney Center has started to mean to the community and to Union students. “The Kenney Center is becoming a focal point of community activity for the residents of College Park and their children,” said Tyson. “It also is becoming a haven for the many Union students who volunteer in the community.”

“A lot of parents absolutely adore this place,” said Lesley Guggenheim '02, a director of the Homework Center and Skills Development Program for students at Van Corlaer School. “We have more materials and computers now than before (when the program was housed in a study lounge in a residence hall), and most of the kids live just down the block.” The program tutors about ten students each day with about thirty Union students volunteering as tutors. The program is coordinated by Gamma Phi Beta and Alpha Epsilon Pi.

Staffed by Union students and staff, with support from GE Elfun Society volunteers, the homework program helps students prepare for the New York State Pupil Assessment Tests. The mentoring program is funded through an $8,200 grant from Campus Compact, which is funded by the GE Fund.

The Kenney Center features regularly scheduled health and wellness workshops sponsored by Ellis and St. Clare's hospitals; Girls Inc. of the Greater Capital Region will provide a range of programs for young women. Union's Big Brothers/Big Sisters program is also based at the Center.

The Kenney Center was named in memory of Ralph Kenney, a 1929 Union graduate. Last year, Marjorie Kenney, of Delmar, N.Y., donated $1 million to the College, with the understanding that the funds benefit Union and the city of Schenectady. The Kenney gift adds to donations from Fleet Financial Group to the Community Center; Fleet gifts total $35,000. The center is part of the Union-Schenectady Initiative, the College's $10 million neighborhood revitalization effort.