A new multi-purpose room for community gatherings, family reunions, and sporting opportunities will soon be available for public use.
In the coming weeks, the contractors who have been tasked with the major expansion of the gymnasium at the Run the Race Center will put the minor finishing touches on the year-long project.
Now encompassing 10,000 square-feet of space, the amenities include a performance stage with a private dressing room, retractable basketball hoops, home and visitor bleachers, and an official capacity that will allow hundreds of individuals to be in the room at the same time.
“We are absolutely thrilled to be able to share this wonderful new gymnasium with the children of the city and with the people of the community,” said Rachel Muha, founder of the Run the Race Center – a part of the Brian Muha Foundation. “It has been a long time coming and sometimes I never thought I would be able to say those words.”
The long road of the expansion project began to take shape more than a decade ago when Muha moved the non-profit organization that allows inner-city children and adolescents to have a “safe space to learn and play” in a faith-based setting to the current location at 880 S. Wayne Ave.
Officially opening in 2012, some of the older children who were more sports-oriented could see right away that the size of the gymnasium would not be well-served in the long run.
“It was way too small,” said Daniel Houston, a former adolescent visitor of the center who is now employed as an adult mentor and program specialist. “There were so many kids all trying to fit in this middle school-sized gym.”
Although the children made an attempt to maintain the condition of the gymnasium, he admitted they might have shaved a few usable years off its lifespan.
“We were kind of rough back then, especially with the nets and the basketball area,” said Houston.
At the time, Houston and his friends discussed the merits of addressing the need for a new gymnasium with Muha but ultimately decided against taking that step.
“None of us were going to ask Ms. Rachel to buy a new gymnasium,” he said with a laugh. “We have always felt like we could talk to her about anything but we definitely weren’t going to talk to her about our need for more space so we could burn off energy.”
As the years passed, Muha started to see for herself that an expansion of the 5,000 square-foot gymnasium was needed: At first, the number of children who came to the center for respite increased. Then came the calls from the city to host community events and meetings. That was followed by inquiries from the community asking if the site was available to rent for gatherings. And then some of the more creative-minded children at the center wanted to access the space to stage original productions.
“It was time for me to do something about it,” said Muha. “Or according to some people, way past time.”
In 2021, Muha and the supporters of the Run the Race Center started a fundraising campaign to cover the cost of the expansion. Since they do not accept local, state, or federal dollars, the non-profit organization had to hit the ground running to raise roughly $700,000 for the project.
“We had to rob a few banks to do it,” Muha joked.
With the financial assistance of “a very generous community,” the Run the Race Center was able to break ground on the gymnasium expansion in the summer of 2022. Delays in the supply chain would put the project on hold for the next several months and then vandals would further delay the construction – and add to the overall expense of the project by roughly $700,000.
Houston said he remembers the sick feeling they had when the construction site was broken into for the first time. Then came the fire that destroyed some equipment and materials. Then came more break-ins and thefts of the site and the center itself.
“Our morale was so low, we all just felt terrible,” he recalled. “It felt like we were working against the devil. Every time that the contractors would let us know they were making progress, someone would come in and break in and take something or mess with something and it would put us back to where we were.”
“I didn’t understand why people kept doing this to us when we are the people who are trying to help the community,” he said.
The frequent break-ins were particularly rough for the staff, volunteers and the children at the center, said Muha, but they were determined to see it through to the very end.
“You get to the point where you start to think ‘Oh yeah? You think you’re going to stop us? Because you’re not,’” said Muha. “It just made us more determined for the kids’ sake because this is a place where the children know that they can come and that they’re safe and they can be who they want to be when they are here.
“That is what was so aggravating and what made it hurt so much, but we are almost to the end now and it is going to be good for everyone, especially for our children because God loves them so much,” she said.
For the past several weeks, the children at the center have been able to get a feel for the new gymnasium for themselves.
Emone Allen, 13, said what she likes about the new gym in comparison to the old gym is how much room there is to move.
“It’s really fun to be able to play around more,” she said.
Liam Smith, 10, said he is thankful that the extra space allows him to practice his budding skills on the gridiron – albeit indoors.
“We can now play from side to side,” he said.
Dayvion Foster, 11, said he is grateful that he and his friends now have more room to burn off energy with some of their favorite games such as basketball, dodgeball, or sharks and minnows.
He said it is his hope that no one else comes in and vandalizes the property.
“I would like it to not get wrecked because we really love it,” Foster stated.
When the “minor, finishing touches” are completed, the community will be able to schedule a time to use and/or rent the space during certain hours of the day, early evenings, or weekends. Currently, the Capital Regiment Performing Arts marching band uses the space to practice and Muha has invited those involved in a multi-family homeschool to call 614-276-2171 to discuss the formation of a basketball league for children aged 7-9 and 10-14. Email correspondence can also be sent to BrianMuhaFoundation@hotmail.com. Those contacts can also be used for any question the community has about the use of the gymnasium.
The center would also like to have their own basketball team– or any other team pursuit the children are interested in – and host tournaments in the near future. Muha said she is “so excited” about the endless possibilities this gymnasium expansion will provide to the area children and the community.
“I think what I enjoy about it most right now is how much joy it is bringing to our children,” said Muha. “Sometimes they walk in here (through the doors of the Run the Race Center), kind of unsure if they belong or they think they need to act tough. But then they come into the gym and they’re all playing a game that they’re all familiar with and they start to bond because ultimately it doesn’t matter where they came from.
“When they are at this center, when they are in the gym, they just enjoy being together and being somewhere safe. And it is a beautiful sight to see.”