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Changes creating upheaval at Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club

Jeremy Lazarus | 9/13/2018, 6 a.m.
The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club in Church Hill is undergoing the biggest upheaval in the nearly 70 years ...
Closed in December, the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club on R Street in Church Hill is undergoing a $6.1 million renovation and expansion that is expected to be complete early next year. Ava Reaves

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LaWanda Rowe

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Donald Dohmann

The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club in Church Hill is undergoing the biggest upheaval in the nearly 70 years it has offered programming.

The participation of children and teens has plummeted dramatically in the months since the nearly 50-year-old building at 3701 R St. was closed to undergo a yearlong, $6.1 million renovation and expansion. Officials now say it could be mid-February to March before the work is completed and the space fully outfitted for its grand reopening.

Instead of serving 100 children daily, the club had fewer than 30 children and youths signed up for fall programs that temporarily are being offered at Franklin Military Academy and had even fewer to attend summer programs at a Fulton church, club officials said.

But the biggest upheaval appears to involve staff as the religious group and its local leader, Capt. Donald Dohmann, and club director Hugh Jones prepare to overhaul programming that will be offered when the club returns to its Church Hill home with space to daily serve 200 or more young people ages 6 to 18.

The new programming has led to the loss of two veteran employees whom many regarded as the “glue” that helped make the club a safe and inviting place for the children in the mostly black community the club serves.

The duo, who have filed separate complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, are Dorothy J. “Mama Dot” Crenshaw, program director for 26 years, and LaWanda Rowe, administrative assistant to the director for 38 years.

A third employee, Vernon Allen, who ran summer recreation programs for the club and also taught swimming for about 15 years, dropped his plans to file a similar complaint last week when his employment with the club was renewed, the Free Press was told Wednesday.

The club long has had the only indoor pool in Church Hill.

Ms. Crenshaw and Ms. Rowe have retained employee litigation consultant and former Richmond City Councilman Sa’ad El-Amin, who helped them file the EEOC cases last Friday without charge. Copies of the opening page of the filings show the complaints allege discrimination based on race, sex, color and age although the specifics were not made available to the Free Press.

Those who know of her work said Ms. Crenshaw has been a warm, caring port for children who too often come to the club after dealing with some kind of drama or trauma and are looking for emotional support. Ms. Rowe also sought to help in calming the troubled waters that club members could face.

According to Capt. Dohmann, the positions the two women held have been eliminated as part of the move to provide more targeted programs that focus on education, health and fitness and teen engagement, including computer coding and information technology.

“We are actually expanding our staff from 10 to 13 people,” Capt. Dohmann said, but the positions have been rewritten to reflect the club’s efforts to do more to help members succeed in school and overcome obesity and other life-shortening health challenges, as well as to help the club attract older children.