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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Kingsbridge Heights Community Center leader Charlie Shayne retires

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By Jason Fields

Charlie Shayne’s voice is gruff, as if 10 million cigarettes have come and gone.

His sense of humor is sardonic. Anyone walking past him in the courtyard of the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center is a likely target. Somehow, though, whether he’s making fun of someone’s car, clothes, or even their past, no one seems offended.

And it’s more than a case of just Old Charlie being Charlie, having earned the right to say what he pleases after 25 years of running the center, growing its services, shepherding through, by his own estimate, a quarter of a million young people who lived in poverty, in troubled homes, all in need of some kind of help. That may be part of it, but there also seems to be a relationship, a memory behind each word. There’s affection, too, something tells the victim that there’s no ill intent behind the blow.

Now, some of those he helped are carrying on his work as he retires today.

As Mr. Shayne sits talking under a fold-out canopy, he hollers for Michelle McPherson to come over. She’s walking with car keys in her hand, clearly on her way somewhere else, but instead she heads over, the look on her face the kind saved for a favorite but eccentric uncle.

Mr. Shayne introduces her as the director of after school programs at KHCC, and also as an 11-year-old he remembers from 1991.

He teases her about her car, which is apparently too small and weird-looking, and her tenure at KHCC, facetiously deciding that the center would have to keep her, seemingly in spite of her bad taste in automobiles.

While Mr. Shayne takes a walk, Ms. McPherson said she remembers the date when she first met Mr. Shayne, in 1991: Sept. 18.

“It’s important to remember the date,” she said.

Why?

“It had a huge impact on me. I never left since that day,” Ms. McPherson said.

She speaks about the programs to help kids on the brink of trouble at KHCC, and she talks about Mr. Shayne and his ability to defuse a crisis among those who come to the center for help.

One story involved gang members in an “altercation” at the center when Mr. Shayne stepped in and stopped the situation from escalating.

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