Community centers

Community centers are public venues where community members go for a variety of reasons, including socializing, participating in recreational or educational activities, gaining information, and seeking counseling or support services. Community centers house a variety of programs, and can be open to everyone in a community or only to a particular sub-population, such as seniors, youth, or immigrants. 

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Improved social networks

  • Reduced isolation

Evidence of Effectiveness

Engaging community members in community center activities is a suggested strategy to strengthen social ties and reduce isolation among community members (ILR-Ottmann 2006, , RAND-London 2006, Lauer 2007). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Community technology centers, community centers that emphasize technology access, are associated with positive youth development and strong peer-to-peer relationships, especially among minority youth in low income families (RAND-London 2006). In a Boston-based study, neighborhoods with a low density of community centers and recreation facilities were shown to have lower median incomes and larger minority populations than neighborhoods with a higher density of facilities (Hannon 2006). Establishing community centers may help reduce disparities in access to services and recreational facilities.

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

Community centers are common throughout the US, especially in urban and suburban areas. Community centers can be run by the government, by local non-profit organizations, or by faith-based groups (e.g., Boston’s BCYF, Milwaukee’s Walnut Way, the YMCA, or the JCC).

Community centers can house programs that improve the health and well-being of community members, such as Stanford GEMS, the Early Risers Conduct Problems Prevention Program, and the Arlanza Initiative (Robinson 2010, , CDC-Community center). 

Implementation Resources

CTCNet-Stone 2003 - Stone A. Center start-up manual. Cambridge: Community Technology Centers’ Network (CTCNet); 2003.

Innovation Center 2001 - Innovation Center for Community & Youth Development, National 4-H Council. Building community: A tool kit for youth & adults in charting assets and creating change. Takoma Park: Innovation Center for Community & Youth Development; 2001.

HOST-PA - Healthy Out-of-School Time (HOST) Coalition. Resources: Physical activity (PA).

NISC - National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC). Supporting the nation's senior centers.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Lauer 2007 - Lauer SR, Yan MC. Neighbourhood houses and bridging social ties. Metropolis British Columbia (MBC) Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Diversity. 2007: Working Paper 07-07.

RAND-London 2006 - London RA, Servon LJ, Rosner R, Wallace A. The role of community technology centers in youth skill-building and empowerment. Santa Cruz: University of California Santa Cruz; 2006.

ILR-Ottmann 2006 - Ottmann G, Dickson J, Wright P. Social connectedness and health: A literature review. Ithaca: Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR); 2006.

Glover 2004* - Glover TD. The 'community' center and the social construction of citizenship. Leisure Sciences: An Interdisciplinary Journal. 2004;26(1):63–83.

Hannon 2006 - Hannon C, Cradock A, Gortmaker SL, et al. Play across Boston: A community initiative to reduce disparities in access to after-school physical activity programs for inner-city youths. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2006;3(3):A100.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Robinson 2010 - Robinson TN, Matheson DM, Kraemer HC, et al. A randomized controlled trial of culturally tailored dance and reducing screen time to prevent weight gain in low-income African American girls: Stanford GEMS. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 2010;164(11):995–1004.

Bloomquist 2012* - Bloomquist ML, August GJ, Lee SS, Piehler TF, Jensen M. Parent participation within community center or in-home outreach delivery models of the early risers conduct problems prevention program. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 2012;21(3):368-83.

CDC-Community center - Alcaraz R. New community center to prevent youth violence. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS).

BCYF - City of Boston. Boston centers for youth & families (B.C.Y.F).

Walnut Way - Walnut Way Conservation Corp.

JCC - Jewish Community Centers Association (JCC). Jewish community centers of North America.

YMCA - Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The Y.

Date Last Updated

Jan 22, 2016