The Nevin Community Center is in Richmond’s Iron Triangle neighborhood, a few yards from Kaiser Hospital. The center’s playground is fenced off from a large patch of grass that stretches from the center to the sidewalk on the 800 block of Macdonald Avenue. Across the grass, a couple of older men are hanging out, sipping beers at a picnic table. A woman with a stroller walks by and asks them for a cigarette.
Standard park sounds—like the laughter of toddlers—mix with the sound of glass bottles clinking at the recycling center across the street. The recycling center is lively in comparison, with about 20 people standing in line waiting to cash in their glass. Outside of it, a man sits in an out-of-place recliner on the sidewalk.
There are only two kids on the playground, but the brightly colored jungle-gym equipment stands out among the two blighted buildings across the street. The new Trinity Plaza apartment buildings with fresh paint jobs add a developed feel to an area known for vacant buildings.
In front of the Nevin Center are two trashcans with a colorful mosaic of glass glued onto them. The front of the center has two paintings of black and brown community members looking at a grave filled with guns, and a headstone with the word “violence” on it.
To the left of the automatic door sits the “information station,” which is made up flyers, and pamphlets about upcoming community events and announcements from Mayor Tom Butt’s office. A few feet away, above a water fountain, is a poster board with the faces of black historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. printed on it.
The board reflects the historically Black community that the Nevin center serves. For decades, it’s been the area’s only resource for computer access and a central meeting place for the Iron Triangle’s neighborhood council. It is also been a safe haven for kids who have limited access to outdoor and recreational spaces.
The only person at the center on this particular Monday is Eric Yee, who’s been working for the city of Richmond for over 30 years. Today, he is the site coordinator for the Nevin, and directs people to the center’s facilities, including a computer lab and small fitness room equipped with dumbbells and a few weight machines.
Yee said that people who have spent the night at the nearby Rescue Mission often come to the center to use one of the computers to send emails, and write books. He says they also use the workout equipment and collect glass bottles that he sometimes leaves at the front of the center.
Yes says that he does all of these things to try to make the center a place that people in the community can turn to, to access things that can reduce the stress that comes from homelessness and food insecurity.