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Shabby basement reborn as youth center – QNS.com

Shabby basement reborn as youth center

By Alex Ginsberg

Thanks to a generous grant from Home Depot, two newcomers to Queens Village are now running their own school and youth center on Francis Lewis Boulevard — the only one in the neighborhood, according to its founders.

Jason Furlow and Vermail Noel moved from Brooklyn to Queens Village in August 2001, taking their small Christian academy and most of its 40 pupils with them.

After speaking with youth officers at the 105th Precinct, the two decided they wanted to take action to combat juvenile crime.

“[Vermail] said, ‘OK, we’ve got to do something to get kids off the street” between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.’” Furlow related. “And it was always a desire of mine.”

The result was the Walk in Love Family Life Christian Center at 89-50 Francis Lewis Blvd, which opened in February. Furlow, 24, said it was the only youth center in Queens Village.

But when he and Noel, 37, moved into the small property more than two years ago, it was in no shape to house a youth center. Although the ground floor had previously housed a church and was in serviceable condition, the basement room was completely unfurnished.

“It was like a dungeon down here,” Furlow said, describing bare cement walls and almost total darkness.

So Furlow and Vermail approached Mike Dupoux, then the assistant manager of the Home Depot on Merrick Boulevard in Springfield Gardens.

“We said, ‘Help us! What can you do?’” Furlow recalled.

Dupoux, now a district manager for Home Depot, said the company regularly donates supplies for projects that fall into four categories: natural disaster relief, affordable housing, environmental protection and in this case children at risk.

“It was an empty basement — brick walls and concrete floors — and they said they wanted to convert this,” Dupoux said. “From that point, I went down, did an estimate for Sheetrock, screws, carpeting, studs, compound and various things to make the place look like a room. We even provided furniture, tables and chairs.”

Work began in November. All told, Furlow said the company donated $10,000 worth of supplies.

“It was very, very important,” he said, “because we weren’t financially able to buy the materials.”

Now, three months after its opening, the small, two-room center is bustling.

Besides the full-time K-12 academy, Furlow and Noel also run an after-school program that serves between five and 15 children each day.

“It’s more work, work, work than play, play, play,” Furlow said, noting that children at the Walk in Love after-school program must finish all their homework before they can do any recreational activities. The fee is $65 per month.

The center also runs a high-school equivalency program in which students pay only the cost of their books.

Furlow and his sister plan to establish a drug abuse prevention program, a summer camp, and a domestic violence counseling service.

All that will take money. Although students enrolled in the academy pay tuition, those fees are frequently reduced for families in difficult financial situations. As a result, Walk in Love is constantly — despite the generosity of Home Depot — in search of more funding.

“We’ve received funds from a few organizations,” Furlow said, but quickly added, “Please! We need money.”

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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