germaine_smith-baugh_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

FORT LAUDERDALE — A $7.5 million “empowerment” center which the Urban League of Broward County will formally open this Friday will boost community programs in the area.

The 2.5-acre “campus” at 560 N.W. 27th Ave. will forge links with the nearby African-American Research Li-brary and Cultural Center (AARLCC) and serve not only as the Urban League’s headquarters but also a resource for residents on a waiting list for services.

“We plan to leverage those relationships through programs,” said Elaina Norlan, director of the AARLCC located just north of the center, with Samuel Delevoe Park immediately east.

 “There are several programs that the community is asking for and we simply don’t have the capacity to support them,” Norlan said. “There are many people who visit us because they are looking for jobs and are in need of support that we can’t offer. We want to commit to getting people back to work, so as we learn more about what the league is doing, we can bridge that gap by offering more assistance.”

After several years of planning, ground was broken for the Urban League of Broward County’s Community Empowerment Center in November 2010. A 40-year lease from the county secured the land at a nominal cost of one dollar per year.

Construction costs for the facility totaled $5.4 million. The league secured  $3.6 million in bond financing from TD Bank, according to Alica Brown, the league’s communication and events manager.

League president and CEO, Dr. Germaine Smith-Baugh described the upcoming grand opening as an “electrifying” moment.

“We are humbled by the outpouring of support from individuals, corporations and partners who believed our mission, supported our vision and allowed us to build the Community Empowerment Center,” she said.

The league currently serves about 7,000 Broward families annually, not including direct services, and with the new center, that number is estimated to double, Brown said.

The staff of about 50 employees will move into the new building by the end of May.

Among the several programs made possible by the expansion, the state-of-the-art bi-level center will offer services related to college readiness by using online educational programming for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). This is a program that Lauderhill resident Kesha Davis feels the community “desperately needs.”

“Ten years ago, several manual jobs were available and technology has replaced those jobs. Today students without math and science skills may find themselves unemployable,” Davis said.

The best and brightest students must have the proper tools for success, Davis continued. “And as parents, we need to support that. Technology, when used appropriately, can enhance our daily lives.  And students need to understand this so they won’t be left behind.”

Chandra Wilkes said she is pleased to “witness another positive structure go up on 27th Avenue.” The life-long Fort Lauderdale resident said the community is in dire need of services.

“People need jobs, assistance with utility bills, rents, and mortgages,” Wilkes said. “Kids need positive, educational outlets. As a senior, I can’t get out and walk too far, so I’m just happy that this blessing of a building is close enough for me to bring my grandchildren.”

Cynthia Roby may be reached at

WHAT: Grand opening of the Urban League of Broward County’s Community Empowerment Center

WHEN: 8 a.m. Friday, April 27

WHERE: 560 N.W. 27th Ave. in Fort Lauderdale

COST: Free and open to the public

For more information or to RSVP, call 954- 584-0777.

Photo: Germaine Smith-Baugh