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Social distancing rules hurt Community Center

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

Every business that depends on people gathering is struggling during the time of the COVID-19 crisis. But while more and more restaurants move to takeout, and professional sports leagues look into playing with no fans in the stadiums, what do you do when providing a place for people to meet is your entire business model?

That’s the predicament the Wellesley Community Center (WCC) finds itself in, having had to cancel events since March, when the schools closed their doors. “This Covid thing has shut us down,” WCC Executive Director Stephen Beach noted. “We’re the largest common civic organization in town. We’re normally slammed, but everything has come to a halt. All the civic groups, all the academic groups, all the athletic groups, our corporate clients, our BNI chapter meetings - all of that stuff is dead.”

“Business model” was probably not the best phrasing, considering the Community Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. While the center has been in operation for 42 years, people tend not to realize that they are a charitable organization that gets no money from the town. As Beach put it: “We don’t get any taxpayer support. We have to manage our own finances. We have to manage our own budget. We have to manage our own revenue streams. That is solely our responsibility.”

While there is a link to donate to the Community Center on their website, Beach didn’t seem very keen on starting a fundraising campaign during this trying time. He noted that unlike other affinity-based charities, the general, multipurpose, one-size-fits-all nature of the center makes it hard to get people excited the way an art group, theater group or adult education class does. That’s a shame, because the center hosts some very deserving causes.

For example, one of the most disappointing things Beach had to cancel due to the virus was a Red Cross blood drive. Having to cancel such a worthy event would be bad enough; what made it worse was this year’s blood drive was set to break records.  

“We cancelled our blood drive at the last minute. We had a record number of appointments, but we were being aware of the liability, exposure and so forth. But, doesn’t it figure that you have to pull the plug on a blood drive that was going to break all records? We are partners with them, and we will be doing it again.”

While Beach has constantly been rescheduling events for later in the year, he said that all the regulars will be restored to their normal routines, and that he’s not worried about overlapping events between those originally planned for the fall and those rescheduled from the spring. Another thing he wasn’t especially nervous about was the push to hold more and more meetings online. While he did note that some groups are holding virtual meetings, figuring that it’s better than nothing, the Community Center has a distinct advantage that should help it survive in what may be an increasingly tough market: its geography.

“So much of what drives the demand for this facility is its geographic location. It’s very uniquely situated to Worcester, Boston, South Shore, North Shore, Southern New Hampshire. When we have, for example, academic training, there are groups that come here from all over New England. They converge on this spot because of where it is situated. So, we’re very unique in that regard. The ingress and egress very much works in our favor. Bear in mind it’s coincidental, and it’s circumstantial. There was no master plan, it just happened to work out that way.”

So, while there’s no way to know when things will get back to usual and people will return to the Community Center, Beach feels okay about its future.

“We will weather the storm. We’re not enjoying ourselves right now, but we will land on our feet.”

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