A Space Where You Belong
Adorned with murals of civil rights legends, filled with a renovated gymnasium, art room and tech labs, walls lined with exhibits honoring the rich history of Manchester – this is the Leisure Labs at Mahoney Center.
The Leisure Labs at Mahoney Center, located at 110 Cedar Street, is the latest iteration in recreation centers overseen by the Town of Manchester’s Department of Leisure, Family and Recreation. What was once the Westside Recreation Center and the Washington Elementary School has become a three-floor recreation and programming center that is centered around three tenants: Recreation, Creation & Culture.
A New Age Recreation Center
The Leisure Labs at Mahoney Center does not mirror the recreation centers of yesterday – it is a forward-thinking, multi-use community center that offers a wide scope of programming, both traditional and nontraditional, that encourages participation from children, teens and adults. According to Chris Silver, the Director of the Department of Leisure, Family, and Recreation, this broad scope is necessary in order to meet the evolving needs of the Manchester community.
“The necessity of a center like the Leisure Labs is to broaden our reach, understanding that not everyone connects with traditional recreation programming,” Silver said. “We look through a different lens when creating programs and spaces to ensure that the physical spaces and their respective offerings reflect the people and cultures who come into our doors.”
The Leisure Labs at Mahoney Center’s operating hours include:
October – Early May: Monday-Thursday (5:00 PM – 9:00 PM), Friday (5:00 PM – 8:00 PM)
Late May – September: By appointment or reservation only
Programming For All
At the Leisure Labs at Mahoney Center, a variety of programs are offered to those of all ages, including drop-in sports, registration-based sessions and league play.
For youth athletics, Indoor Tennis, Youth Basketball and Co-Ed Indoor Soccer leagues are offered during the upcoming Winter/Spring programming season, with offerings that will teach participants about the foundations of the game and the importance of hard work and collaboration. Drop-in basketball is offered on weeknights for those young players who are looking to escape from the cold of winter and play in a fun, encouraging environment.
For adult sports, the Leisure Labs offers a yearly Adult Co-Ed Volleyball League during the fall and early winter, which sees team’s face off for the bragging rights of being crowned the Leisure Labs adult volleyball champions.
Outside of these recreation offerings, the Leisure Labs offer a variety of fee-based programs that seek to educate, enlighten and entertain their varied youth participants. From Intro to Digital Design, a new class that teaches the basic principles of the Canva database, to Intro to Crochet, a session that will teach the foundations of needlecraft, there is a wide variety of offerings for those who connect with programs outside of the traditional recreational fare.
For those looking for some engaging, family-friendly activities, the Leisure Labs also hosts the Friday Night Specials series, with themes for the new year including a Hot Chocolate Social, Valentines Cupcakes, an Ice Cream Social and much more. Want to catch a movie with friends & family? Check out free showings of Disney’s Soul and Elemental (Recreation Card required).
Developing Our Future Leaders
Youth development opportunities often take precedent when it comes to the initiatives of the Leisure Labs. For a shining example, look no further than the LabWorks For Teens program, offered for the very first time at the Labs starting this past fall.
LabWorks For Teens is a development program offered to Manchester Public School students in Grades 9-12 that “aims to contribute to the student’s academic success, health and wellness, character, leadership, and college and career readiness.” Coordinated by the Manchester Early Learning Center in collaboration with the Department of Leisure, Family, and Recreation, LabWorks for Teens is a forward-thinking initiative that hopes to empower and encourage all those who participate.
“Through the LabWorks program, young leaders are given the opportunity to enhance their leadership skills by participating in career tracks that expand their knowledge and encourage their interests,” Recreation Supervisor Taylor McBride, who oversees the Leisure Labs at Mahoney Center, said. “Erin Osuna, the MELC High School Director, does an exceptional job of encouraging high school students to step out of their comfort zone and believe in themselves and their own abilities.”
Celebrating The Manchester Community
In addition to more traditional recreation offerings and fee-based youth programming, the Leisure Labs at Mahoney Center also hosts cultural programs and special events. From cultural celebrations such as the annual Juneteenth Freedom Day Commemoration and Hispanic Heritage Day Celebration, to hosting local grassroot community organizers, the Leisure Labs are committed to honoring the diverse faces, voices and stories of the Manchester community. This mission is most evident through the Leisure Labs’ Culture Lab.
The Culture Lab, located on the third floor, is a center dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion. From the walls adorned with Conscious Evolution, a gallery that uses photographs to tell the story of Manchester in the wake of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, to programs and discussion series based around topics such as support for veterans of color and income inequality, the Culture Lab is committed to telling the authentic history of Manchester’s people.
This robust history can even be viewed in the halls leading to the Culture Lab, as the entryway is lined with the Luminaries of Change exhibit, a gallery consisting of fourteen stylized, colorful panels, recognizing the work of many of Manchester’s fiercest trail blazers.
Installed right outside the Culture Lab, the Luminaries of Change is a permanent art exhibit that honors the historic pioneers and local leaders who have helped to define Manchester’s battle for inclusivity and helped to shape social justice within their community. Luminaries include historical pioneers, leaders, activists, political trailblazers and aspiring leaders whose work impacts the community of Manchester and beyond.
Honoring Manchester’s History
This fall saw the continued expansion of the arts at the Leisure Labs at Mahoney Center, as the Manchester Sports Hall of Fame was permanently installed on the first and second floors of the center. The Manchester Sports Hall of Fame exhibit highlights the first 42 years of H.O.F. inductees. Commemorated with display panels, the exhibit spans the first two floors of the Leisure Labs, officially signifying the move from its original home at the Old Manchester Museum at 126 Cedar Street.
The exhibit’s move to the Leisure Labs will allow for increased access by the public and allow for the continued expansion of recognized athletes. The exhibit aims to recognize the history and accomplishments of the diverse slate of athletes from the Town of Manchester and to inspire all those who visit to achieve excellence, both inside and outside of athletic competition.
“As a Bicentennial commemorative project, the intention behind moving & creating a more inclusive exhibit was to put the Manchester Sports Hall of Fame in a location where everyone has access to view it,” Silver said. “Its previous location at the Manchester History Museum allowed for minimal viewing & only included the faces of the athletes inducted, not the entire history of award recipients like the new exhibit does.”
But this isn’t the end of the expansion of the cultural arts at the Leisure Labs at Mahoney Center. The Department of Leisure, Family and Recreation is currently exploring the World in Manchester project, an exhibit that would be permanently installed in the Culture Lab and would focus on the peoples and cultures that have immigrated from all over the world to Manchester.
“We live life assuming we know ourselves and understand our fellow person in this community, but do we really?” Project Director Marc Orfitelli said. “That is the aim of this permanent installation, to make our audience question and learn a piece of not only themselves and their cultural background, but others as well, be it art, music, religion, [or] folklore. When we continue to learn about ourselves and others, the more we realize that as humans, we are far more connected to each other.”
(Please note that the World in Manchester project is a work in progress – further development of the concept is required and funding sources are currently being investigated).
For those looking to partake in these offerings, as a part of the Town of Manchester’s Bicentennial Celebration and with support from AARPA funds, the Town is extending a no-cost recreation membership to all adult and senior residents for the 2024 membership season. This membership allows for the use of recreation centers (including the Leisure Labs), outdoor and indoor pools, and the Community Y Fitness Center. Senior memberships are also valid for the Manchester Senior Center and its respective programs.
Memberships can be created or renewed at the Center Springs Main Office, Community Y, or the Customer Service office at Town Hall. Senior membership cards can be renewed at the Senior Center. For more information about member registration, please visit the Department of Leisure, Family and Recreation’s website or call the Recreation Division at (860)647-3084.
Whether you are a long-time Leisure Labs participant or if you have never made your way out to the Westside’s revamped recreation center, all are welcomed to come partake in the slate of recreation programs, educational opportunities and cultural initiatives. The Leisure Labs at Mahoney Center was created as a reflection of the Manchester community, so please join in with all the Labs have to offer.