Glenfield Park’s brand new, sprawling Wally Choice Community Center opened on June 22, a year after construction began at the site. The new center is 10,000 square feet – twice as big as the former center – and was designed to better meet the needs of residents and groups that use the Essex County park. It also features a patio with outdoor seating and a parking lot.
The project was funded through the Essex County Capital Budget and with a $5 million grant from the NJ Department of Community Affairs.
“The Wally Choice Community Center always was one of the most used facilities in our Parks System. The larger, modern accommodations make the building more inviting and provide visitors and community groups with flexible spaces that can be used for senior activities, after school enrichment programs, meeting space for organizations and room for families to celebrate milestone events,” DiVincenzo said. “We gathered a great deal of input from area residents and those who frequently used the park to design this building. I know the community will make great use of this space.”
One group that has a long history of utilizing the original Wally Choice Community Center is the Do Drop In, a social group for senior citizens. The group, after meeting at the Catchings Owen Community Suite for the last year during construction, were finally able to christen their new and improved space on Monday, July 3. Do Drop In members gathered in their new home, saying grace before settling in to enjoy their lunch.
Do Drop In is a lively group of seniors who enjoy a chance to reminisce, crack a joke or two, and even playfully throw a few choice words at each other while playing cards. The origin of the group started with Wallace “Wally” Choice, a lifelong resident of Montclair and founder of the Montclair Grass Roots summer camp, who gathered some childhood friends together to play cards. Some say the name came from a local bar, but the group’s senior coordinator Katherine Nicholas said it’s simply a request.
“It’s like you’re asking someone to come by,” Nicholas said. “Please, do drop in.”
In 2008, Glenfield Park House was renamed the Wally Choice Community Center in his honor, recognizing Choice’s long lasting and impactful legacy, remembered and celebrated again in the new and improved community center.
Stanley White, a long time attendee of the group and president of Montclair’s Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund said, “I love it, it’s definitely better than what we had in the old building that got knocked down. Even the restrooms are nice!”
“It’s a wonderful facility and I am so glad we are here finally,” Nichols said. “The kitchen is state of the art. Anybody who works in a kitchen couldn’t ask for more, because they have everything in it,” she added.
Jack Farrell, a volunteer who was born and raised in Montclair, said the renovation of the center and having it named after Choice, his longtime friend, is a “full circle” moment.
“It’s truly representative of our Fourth Ward and South End community, named after a great leader and a pioneer in the community, Mr. Wally Choice,” said Farrell.” I’m really grateful we have the opportunity to be here.”
The Do Drop In is one of three groups that have access to the center free of charge. The Montclair Neighborhood Development Corporation secured a two year grant for The Do Drop In, Montclair Cobras and the Montclair Grass Roots to have access to the facility. Previously, the Wally Choice Center was one of the only county facilities that Essex County residents could book directly through the center and not through the county, said Rev. Craig Dunn, Executive Director of the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corp.
Residents who would like to reserve the Wally Choice Center for events now need to contact the Essex County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs.
Henrietta Rice, a dedicated member of the group, is grateful she and her friends have their home back. “We can be among our peers,” she said of the center. “This place keeps us alert and it keeps us knowing people are thinking about us and not forgetting we are seniors that may need a place to get out of the house and be with our age group to laugh and have fun.”