An Urban Oasis for The Community

The East Madison Community Center’s Vital Impact

By Marni McEntee | Photographed by Shanna Wolf

On a quiet side street just a stone’s throw from the raucous Stoughton Road/ Highway 151 interchange is an oasis for thousands of people who live in a wide swath of East Side neighborhoods. Mostly kids come to the East Madison Community Center, but adults and seniors do, too.

The center is open until 8 p.m. most days and until 9 p.m. on Friday nights. Plus, it’s got regular hours on Saturday. The idea, says assistant director De’Kendrea Stamps, is to have a place for young people to come after school and in the evening. And come they do, for meals, education, entertainment and exercise.

Last year the center served nearly 5,000 people, mainly kids 6-18 years old.

“We realized it was important to have programming in the evening hours, since a lot of parents work second-shift jobs,” Stamps says. “We wanted to make sure kids have a place to go and get positive ways to spend their time.”

Children and youth are served 9,600 healthy meals each year at the center, including a dinner. It offers a weekly food pantry used by more than 2,600 people per year.

Inside the 20,000-square-foot building is a fitness center, offices, a kids’ playroom and classrooms, an auditorium, a reading and homework center and a computer lab. These spaces host cooking classes, exercise and dance programs and more. Outside is an expansive vegetable garden and handball courts.

Somehow, all these offerings are coordinated with just a $600,000 annual budget, three full-time staff, eight more part-timers and a coterie of volunteers.

In March, Stamps learned the center, established 52 years ago, was the 2018 recipient of a Design for a Difference makeover, in which Madison-area interior designers, remodelers and construction professionals raise money and donate time to adopt a nonprofit each year to renovate.

Stamps and her staff are ecstatic to imagine the possibilities for the cinderblock building with three separate additions, mismatched floors and furniture, and technology from another millennium. Stamps hopes, among other things, that the entryway can be made more welcoming and the center made easier for users to navigate.

“We want to provide enough space and this is the perfect opportunity to make the space welcoming for the people coming in,” says Stamps. In October, when the makeover work is revealed, Stamps and her staff will see their wishes granted.

For more on Design for a Difference Madison, visit Learn about the East Madison Community Center’s programs at

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