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Community centers

Health Factors: Family & Social Support
Decision Makers: Community Development Professionals Local Government Grantmakers Nonprofit Leaders
Evidence Rating: Expert Opinion
Population Reach: 50-99% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: Likely to decrease disparities

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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

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, Glover 2004, 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.


United States

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, Bloomquist 2012, CDC-Community center). 


Community centers are common throughout Wisconsin.

Implementation Resources

CTCNet-Stone 2003 - Stone A. Center start-up manual. Cambridge: Community Technology Centers’ Network (CTCNet); 2003. Accessed on April 25, 2018
HOST-PA - Healthy Out-of-School Time (HOST) Coalition. Resources: Physical activity (PA). Accessed on May 9, 2017
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. Accessed on February 17, 2016
NISC - National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC). Supporting the nation's senior centers. Accessed on January 22, 2016

Citations - Evidence

Glover 2004* - Glover TD. The 'community' center and the social construction of citizenship. Leisure Sciences: An Interdisciplinary Journal. 2004;26(1):63–83. Accessed on February 17, 2016
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. Accessed on February 5, 2016
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. Accessed on May 20, 2016
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. Accessed on February 5, 2016
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. Accessed on November 9, 2015

Citations - Implementation

BCYF - City of Boston. Boston centers for youth & families (B.C.Y.F). Accessed on December 1, 2015
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. Accessed on March 29, 2016
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). Accessed on March 1, 2017
JCC - Jewish Community Centers Association (JCC). Jewish community centers of North America. Accessed on February 29, 2016
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. Accessed on May 24, 2016
Walnut Way - Walnut Way Conservation Corp. Accessed on November 10, 2015
YMCA - Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The Y. Accessed on November 23, 2015

Page Last Updated

January 22, 2016

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