Give Ten Cheers for the W (Heather)

Tonight the Marquette County Board of Commissioners is meeting with West Branch Township officials to discuss the future of the West Branch Community Center (at Sawyer), known around here as “The W.” I hope they decide to reopen the W, which closed two years ago. It is important for the wellbeing of my students, family and community.

Gwinn High School students play donkey ball at the W.

I knew many of my students from the W before they came into my classroom. I hear all the time about how they wish it were still open. Many students practically “lived” at the W, especially in the summertime during the GREAT (Gang Resistance Education and Training) program. Also, it was convenient for working parents to bring their kids to the W on snow days and during other school cancellation days. It gave students a safe place to go, where they would keep out of trouble and participate in positive activities.

Mackenzie and Mikayla at donkey ball at the W.

My husband Kevin worked at the W, so I saw firsthand the benefits that it brought to area residents. Our family used the W on a daily basis. Mackenzie had regular basketball and volleyball practices there. Every night, she would be in the gym shooting hoops, and she’s gotten to be a pretty good player because of it. Mikayla mainly used the W for swimming. She swam laps every day, and splashed in the pool with her young friends. The girls appreciated using the library there, and they used the W’s computers to do research for homework.

Senior citizens, too, made good use of the W. They would take exercise and swimming classes, and enjoyed the sauna. Most of all, they liked going there to have a place to socialize. The W was one big family, with everyone included who wanted to go there. I miss having that close-knit atmosphere. The W was one of those special places that made our family so happy to be residents of Marquette County. It improved the quality of our lives in many ways.

Lisa Johnson, CEO of Community Hand-UP (the group spearheading efforts to reopen the center), has done an incredible job applying for grants, doing fundraising, and raising awareness. I admire her never-give-up attitude and hard work. This mom of two current Gwinn students and another who has graduated is a true example of what it means to be a dedicated volunteer.

So, what can we do to help? One current effort is to win a grant from Reader’s Digest’s “We Hear You America” sweepstakes. Ten municipal prizes between $10,000 and $40,000 will be awarded to the towns with the most “cheers.” Gwinn currently is ranked 18. Participants can “cheer” ten times a day at http://wehearyouamerica.readersdigest.com/index.jsp. Let’s stop talking about it and get the W reopened. Our community needs it.

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