By Devin Bartolotta

BALTIMORE (WJZ)– A new center focused on teenagers in East Baltimore opened its doors Thursday. The center was named after the Dawson Family, who were killed in a firebombing attack almost 15 years ago.

The hope is that the program will keep kids off the streets after school and help them with skills and self esteem.

Kids in the Oliver neighborhood have gained a new chance to succeed.

“It’s nice because it’s helping the kids do something instead of being on the streets and stuff, you can come to the rec center,” said high school student Somia McIntyre.

Kids scored free backpacks and fresh haircuts for school during the grand opening of the Dawson Teen Center.

“I cannot wait until I see my teacher,” one kid said.

The brand new after school center is focused on East Baltimore kids 13-to 19-years-old. The center offers tutoring, classes and arts programs.

“A lot times people don’t understand dance, modeling, fashion. It’s a part of your character,” dance instructor Maria Mbouje.

The Dawson family of seven was murdered in 2002 in an act of witness intimidation. Their home was firebombed by revengeful drug dealers.

It’s been 15 years since the block ignited as the Dawson’s slept but many who helped make the teen center in their name become a reality remember that night clearly.

“I was there the night of the incident, but I think Mr. Dawson and Mrs. Dawson would have been very pleased about the facility and what has happened as a result of the tragedy they experienced,” said Reggie Scriber, Baltimore deputy commissioner of housing.

The tragedy resulted in a safe haven and a place for Baltimore teenagers to grow.

“A program like this that’s open from 2:30 to 7 every day with a caring spot for that kind of support is really important to the community,” said Michael Braverman of Baltimore Housing and Community Development.

Mayor Pugh reiterated Thursday that all of this is free, which levels the playing field for kids across Baltimore.

The center is open after school until 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.

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