An estimated 150 Washington residents are patrons of the nation's fist municipal recreation center designed and publicly financed for use by mentally and physically handicapped persons.
The $2.6 million D.C. Center for Therapeutic Recreation, at 3030 G. St. SE, has space and facilities for 400 users but is short of funds to hire staff. Director Charles Butler said he hopes to get more money to increase the staff from 19 to 25 persons so that more people can be accomodated.
Chances of getting more funds are not good for the immediate future, however, according to Bob Fleming, administrative officer of the D.C.Department of Recreation. He said he does not expect an increase in the $202,000 annual budget for the coming fiscal year.
The center was opened last April. The only other similar facilities in the United States are a privately sponsored facility in San Francisco and a converted, public center in Philadelphia.
"I'm making it, you know, I'm making it. I just keep my head up and don't let get me down," said Kevin Campbell, 17, of 1619 28th Place SE. who was paralyzed from the waist down in December after a bout with multiple sclerosis. "You can get around in a wheelchair . . . A lot of people here are really concerned for me.I'm getting around to feeling pretty good."
The center's two buildings were built on approximately five acres and are designed for use by handicapped patrons of all ages. Five steps to the auditorium stage, which can also be reached by ramp, and a flight to the boiler room are the only stairs at the center.
All plumbing is designed for use by the handicapped. There are no curbs to hamper those in wheelchairs, and bollards are placed so wheelchairs but not cars can enter the pedestrian area. All the rooms are color coded for easy identification by the retarded.
Located on the premises are a swimming pool, a miniature golf course, a gymnasium, an arts and crafts room, a photography darkroom and a woodshop. The center also has two 24-seat buses, one mini-bus, and two stationwagons to pick up the handicapped persons around the city.
"One of our main goals is to train the handicapped to go out and use recreational facilities - not sit in their homes - not necessarily here, but any recreational center." said Butler. "A lot of people have been sitting home for 10 to 15 years without anything to do. A lot of them have changed. A lot of them were handicapped and hostile. Now they have some place to go, their attitudes have changed."
"I'd been in the house for so long. I'd been in a hopsital in Prince George's County. When I got home, I wanted somewhere to go," said Campbell, who was an active athlete before becoming ill and ran the anchor leg of the Special Olympics record 440-yard relay for 15-year-olds and under. "I was just being home, eating, sleeping and watching TV. I felt confined. Now I take part in arts and crafts or I'll be in the gym playing basketball."
The center is actively looking for volunteers. It also welcomes donations such as putters for the miniature golf course - there are now only three - gym equipment, or items for the arts and crafts room. For information, call 767-7460.