As grand openings go, they don't come much grander than the one that was held for the multi-million dollar renovation of a community center in East Baltimore largely financed by Under Armour founder Kevin Plank.
The UA House at Fayette, adjacent to the Pleasant View Gardens community in Baltimore, had its coming out party Nov. 22, and the guest list featured a who's who of Baltimore and Maryland luminaries that included rock star entrepreneur Plank, former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Council president Jack Young, Ravens team president Dick Cass, Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and a swarm of local, state and federal-level officials.
But it was U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, the longtime Democratic lawmaker who represents parts of Baltimore city, Baltimore County and much of Howard County, who put into perspective the significance of the refurbished community center that will serve a variety of needs for local residents -- but especially the welcoming place it will be for children.
"I want to thank you for respecting our children and wanting to be a part of their destiny," Cummings said while addressing Plank and others responsible for the renovation of the community center. "This is a house of dreams, but it's also a house of hope."
Cummings then said that what the UA House at Fayette represents should send a message to those who now have influence in Washington, D.C.
"Our diversity is not our problem. Our diversity is our promise," Cummings said. "That's what this is all about -- making a difference in our children's lives."
The UA House at Fayette is a 30,000 square foot facility serving a wide range of purposes. The center will be operated by a familiar group among Baltimore philanthropic organizations, Living Classrooms, which has provided educational and job training for city youth often incorporating sailing into its programs.
At the UA House, in addition to a full indoor basketball court with bleachers, there's also an indoor turf field house and pavilion that used to be an outdoor basketball court. The turf pavilion was funded by the Ravens.
However, there's much more being offered at the UA House besides the sports facilities. The center includes a recording studio where youngsters can hone their musical skills; a design center where young people can explore their entrepreneurial ideas from concept to marketing; a neighborhood kitchen; a yoga and dance studio, and well-equipped classrooms and computer labs that can be used for tutoring and workforce development.
Also of note are the Baltimore A-listers who have signed on to help UA House succeed.
Former Baltimore Colt Joe Ehrmann's coaching program, InSideOut, is being integrated into the offerings at the center. And Power 52, a solar power company with Lewis as an executive, is helping young people understand the opportunities that are available in sustainable energy.
Plank provided $5 million to the makeover and, in addition to the Ravens, others donating money and resources were Under Armour, Joseph and Debra Weinberg, the State of Maryland, Sagamore Development and the Clark Construction Group.
It was that array of contributors along with the work of staff, volunteers and community members that prompted Plank to make sure it was understood that credit -- and ongoing responsibility -- belongs to many.
"It's no one person writing a check; it's no one politician; it's no one business person, it's no one community leader. It takes all of us," Plank said.
"This is what happens when you put great things in that big bucket and one person decides to drop a stone in it. And you realize what happens when the rest of the community comes together to make great things happen."
Plank said that in 1990, there were 150 community centers in Baltimore but that the number had dwindled to just 42. He suggested this newly renovated one at 1100 E. Fayette Street would lead to the development of as many as 30 new ones.
While the Fayette Street center will provide services for every age, such as high school diploma equivalency classes for adults, much of the emphasis is on children and breaking patterns of poverty.
"To everyone who has been a part of this, you have created a platform so that when we are dancing with the angels these children will rise up to be all that God has meant them to be," Cummings said.
Football great Lewis echoed those sentiments while speaking to the children sitting in the audience at the celebration ceremony, "This is a beginning of a legacy. One of these days, some of these kids … will be inspired to do what people say they can't do."