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Crockett works to open new rec center in Rochester

Andre Crockett is turning to the old Gage East gym to house his mentorship academy, and he's fundraising $100,000 to renovate it.

Andre Crockett
Andre Crockett is pictured on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, in the gymnasium that he hopes to renovate into a recreation center for area youth in northwest Rochester.
Matthew Stolle / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Andre Crockett is nothing if not ambitious.

He wants to open a new rec center in Rochester.

Standing near the center court of what once was East Gage Elementary’s gym, now owned by a nonprofit affordable housing developer, Crockett expounds on his plans for turning the space into a community rec center.

It would be a place where kids with “untapped potential” — Crockett shuns the “at-risk” moniker for the way it silos kids; a term once was applied to him when he was kid — to participate in basketball leagues and summer camps. It would also be a place for youth to receive mentoring and after-school tutoring by gaining access to social workers and teachers.

It will be a place for kids to play, but also to take advantage of “intentional programming.”

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If his concept for a new rec center sounds a lot like the recently closed Rochester YMCA , it is not entirely a coincidence.

On its fundraising website , called “Sports Mentorship Academy’s More than a Game,” it explicitly refers to the Y’s closure and the elimination of an important place for young people to recreate and socialize.

Crockett is seeking to raise $100,000 to renovate the gym.

“This exciting venture will help secure a place where children that have been affected by the recent closure of the Rochester YMCA can go as an alternative to the ‘streets,’” the website says.

But Crockett says he would still be pursuing a new Rochester rec center even if the Y hadn’t closed. He feels the academy has the potential to reach a broader cross-section of youth, because of its location in northwest Rochester and what he says will be the affordable cost for youth and families to be members.

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The former Gage East Elementary School building in Rochester.
Post Bulletin file photo

The ambitious part pertains to his timeline for opening the center.

His goal: To see kids entering the doors of the “Sports Mentorship Academy” by the last week of November or the first week of December. That despite the fact he has raised only a fraction of the $100,000 to renovate the facility, which would include new breakaway rims, electronic scoreboard and gym floor, as well as expansion of storage areas into classroom spaces.

“I’m a man of faith,” Crockett said.

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The gym lies next to Center City Housing Center’s Empowerment Center — the old Gage East Elementary School — that houses agencies serving low-income and homeless families and youth. Also nearby are apartments for once-homeless families and youth.

The gym had been used as recently as August for the Rochester Public School’s gymnastics team. But it became available after the team moved to a different location.

Nancy Cashman, executive director of Duluth-based City Center Housing, which is leasing the gym to Crockett, said she has faith that he can carry out the project.

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Head Start teacher Zejna Medar, middle, talks with donors Elaine Case, left, and Susan Ahlquist, both of Rochester, in the infants classroom during an open house at the Gage East Empowerment Center on Dec. 19, 2017, in Rochester.
Post Bulletin file photo

“He’s come to us, saying he can do this,” Cashman said. “And we believe him, because he’s been successful in a lot of the programming in other areas with other partners in the community.”

Crockett, 48, heads up a number of Rochester projects and nonprofits. He is founder of Barbershop & Social Services, a social service agency and mentoring network. He is pastor at Vision Church. He is also co-founder of Community Engagement Response Team, which seeks to mediate disputes through conflict resolution before it can reach a violent stage.

Crockett said one reason for his confidence in this new venture is that the concept isn’t new. Rather, it's an extension of an existing organization, “The Sports Mentorship Academy.” For the last 14 years, the program at Rochester Community and Technical College has paired elementary and middle-grade students with Rochester Community and Technical College student-athletes.

“We can really expand our programming,” he said. “Instead of kids meeting on a college campus twice a week, we have a place where we can run programming five days a week.”

He cites the success of programs under the Sports Mentorship Academy umbrella as reasons why he has confidence in this latest effort of his.

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One called “Playground Allstars” lowered discipline rates at Riverside and Gage elementary schools by 37%. Another, focused on lowering truancy at the two elementary schools and Willow Creek Middle School, saw more than 90% of students targeted return to school, he said.

Before the pandemic, Sports Mentorship Academy had grown into a multistate endeavor with chapters in Winona, Maryland and Wisconsin. But when the pandemic hit and Crockett was restricted in his travels, the chapters outside of Rochester were discontinued. Now, Crockett is looking to expand again.

Crockett said he originally explored building a new facility to house his academy but that proved financially unfeasible. But the “second best thing to that” was the old Gage East gym.

He says he has no doubt about the need. The academy at RCTC serves about 150 to 300 kids a year, he said.

“I’ve been doing this for 14 years. I don’t need referrals,” Crockett said. “We aren’t short of kids, but we are short of facilities.”

To donate

If you'd like to donate to the new Sports Mentorship Academy program, visit www.4giving.com/BCF3 .

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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