Slater Center Serves Public Housing Site
By: White Plains Times
Published: September 21, 2006
By Joshua Friesen
Heather Miller came to the United States from Jamaica with her
three-year-old daughter and no intention of staying. However, as the school
teacher visited her family and became acquainted with Westchester County,
her plans changed. Unable to teach with her Jamaican credentials, she took a
six-month typing and clerical class. Her second job was in downtown White
Plains at the Thomas H. Slater Center. Now, after approximately 26 years of
service, Heather Miller has taken helm of the center as executive director.
In an interview with the White Plains Times, Miller remembered past years at
the center (which primarily serves the neighboring Winbrook public housing
complex), while looking toward its future.
Flyers on parent/child mediation, pamphlets on low-cost health insurance
and domestic violence were displayed next to Black Enterprise magazine in
the foyer of the Slater Center. Children in overalls, braids and smiling
faces rushed through the walkways to their after-school programs, marking
the end of summer hiatus. Miller came out of her office smiling as children
flocked to her. Miller said the center “has always been a warm, welcoming
and nurturing place.” She smiled warmly as she reminisced about working
under the late Charlie Booth, the former executive director, who taught her
“all facets” of the organization over the years.
Reflecting on when she first began work at the Slater Center, she said,
“When the center opened 27 years ago, it could have gone in one of two
directions. It could have run its own programs or let others come in and run
them. We did the latter. The senior center came in, the boy scouts came
in…it was jumping with programs.”
Miller continued, “In 1980, programs lost funding and went back to their
parent’s base ” She shook her head mournfully. “When funding dried up,
programs ran out. I really miss the senior program.” Currently, outside
organizations such as Family Services of Westchester, the Boy Scouts of
America and Narcotics Anonymous still bring programs to the center.
The Slater Center is financed primarily by the city of White Plains. Last
year the center received grants from developer Louis Cappelli, New York Life
Foundation, the White Plains Rotary, an anonymous source, and an additional
community grant from the city of White Plains. These grants totaled
approximately $50,000 and helped the Slater Center finance programs such as
those in the chart at left.
Miller recalled memorable moments in the programs. When Jerome Robinson,
director of the drum corps, died almost three years ago, his son Dane took
over when he was only 16. Now Dane is 18 years old, a high school graduate,
and will be attending college locally. Miller said of the drum corps, “They
are the pride of White Plains!”
How do new programs develop? When a need presents itself. The Invest
program began when middle school students started to “hang out” in the lobby
of the Slater Center, Miller explained, with no current programsavailable
them. Also, the children naturally gravitated towards the center’s program
coordinator, Hassan Abdul Basheer, due to his steady presence in their lives
growing up. Hence, the middle school program developed.
Miller also discussed the changing community of White Plains, noting that
the demographics used to be densely African-American but now the Hispanic
population is emerging. She explained, “Programs have changed to match the
population such as adding ESL,” sponsored by Literacy Volunteers of
As the demographics change, the Slater Center’s Board of Directors,
comprised of 17 members—three of which are from the Winbrook public housing
site—are discussing where the center will go in terms of programs.
When asked what Miller held as her favorite aspect of the Slater Center
she responded, “I’m in love with this place. The children are my
passion—they always have been. I tell people I have 100 children and now
have grandchildren. I don’t shy away from working with kids who have needs.
I take pride in all incremental progress and I give the same praise for the
one who moves from a D in school to the one who moves from an A to an A+.”