A Brief History of the FI Community Center

by Jane Ahrens
Chelsea Skinner, Director Mere Doyen, Happy Gaillard and James Wright at the Fishers Island Community Center’s Ribbon Cutting.

by Peter Breining and FICC

Looking Back and Looking Forward

The Fishers Island Community Center’s doors officially opened to the public Columbus Day Weekend 2008, though the origin of the developmental process, one rife with complexity, took form over a decade prior.

It was 1998 when Sarah and Hy Moody first conducted a survey asking what island residents might be looking for in a Community Center; the aim was not only to attract new residents but to also bolster the health and well-being of the year-round population. The results of the survey exhibited a strong need for a teen gathering space, a childcare facility, and a year-round fitness room. Unfortunately, with several other island fundraising efforts further along in development the Community Center idea was ultimately put on the back burner and left there to simmer.

In January 2004, a group of like-minded island residents teamed up to tackle the community center project once and for all, together forming the Island Community Center (ICC) Committee. Judi Imbriglio was first to sit as the chair, with Sarah Goulard (Moody), Sara McLean, Gail Cypherd, Jeanne Shultz, Karla Heath, Grace Burr, Janio Spinola, John Spofford, Nate Gray, Charlie Stepanek, and several others rounding out the committee.

To ensure that the prior island-wide enthusiasm for the project hadn’t diminished over the years, a new survey was circulated in February 2004, returning an equally encouraging response. Of the committee’s initial concerns, the location of the prospective community center was perhaps the most paramount. The question was whether to construct a new building, a markedly pricey endeavor, or to upgrade and renovate an already established structure.

Jimmy Righter of Albert, Righter & Tittmann Architects, Inc., worked with the ICC pro bono, sharing his expertise. He sketched designs for a possible new freestanding building to be located across from the school. With this in hand and an evaluation of the costs associated with both options, the ICC ultimately determined that repurposing an existing building proved to be the most feasible though hardly one void of its own obstacles.


While the movie theater was originally seen as an operable choice, the sum of its requisite facelift, unfortunately, proved to be too arduous and costly. John Spofford borrowed the keys to Building #98, and after the committee toured the facility there was unanimous and enthusiastic agreement to pursue this alternative. Not only was the brick building’s foundation structurally sound, its location proved advantageous as well. Situated right by the school and its basketball and tennis courts, the inclusion of a Community Center offered the area a real “campus-like” feel, a hopeful vision proposed months earlier by committee members. The building, built by the Army in the 1930’s as the Commissary for Fort Wright, is owned by FIDCO.

Having received the ICC’s proposal, the FIDCO Board unanimously approved the committee’s use of Building #98 by late May 2005, with an annual rent of $1.00 (that is still in place today). The ensuing excitement was palpable, as the committee wasted no time transitioning into their fundraising phase.


The Island Community Center received its certificate of incorporation on August 17, 2005 with the original board of directors made up of President John Spofford, Secretary/Treasurer Sarah Goulard, and Sara McLean and Judi Imbriglio serving as vice presidents. Registering the Community Center as a chartered not-for-profit months prior, members of the fundraising and development sub-committee piqued donation incentive by obtaining the ICC’s 501(c) 3 designation on November 29, 2005, making all ICC contributions tax deductible and helping propel the fundraising phase to an auspicious start and attracting countless donors.

Another significant financial boost came from the Crisp Family Foundation, which announced in late September 2005 that they would match each individual donation in order to expedite the process and help see the ICC’s plans come to fruition. Foundation trustee, Peter Crisp, has often stated how immensely important the Community Center is to the island’s well-being. It has been a priority to his family to help enhance the lives of year-round residents, as well as those who wish to make Fishers Island their permanent home in the future.

Once the initial fundraising goals were reached in 2006, the building and construction phase took flight. Working closely with Bruce Kinlin of Kinlin Rutherfurd Architects and Z&S Contracting’s Paul Contillo and Tom Shillo for roughly two years, the ICC helped transform a once dilapidated building. Bruce and Lilly Kinlin and their staff came to ICC committee meetings time and time again, even through the winter, pro bono, drawing up elaborate designs over and over as changes came in and the building came to life. The result of their collective efforts is the magnificent structure you see today. Under one roof you will find a state of the art fitness center and yoga studio, as well as amenities such as the Island Café, areas for teens and kids, an arts and crafts room, several office spaces, a meeting room and a large multi-purpose room with projection screen. The bowling alley was moved to the Center by the Brunswick Bowling Company from its original location near the school in March 2007.

In 2008, the determined Island Community Center Board, including newly named Executive Director Mere Doyen, designed a campaign to raise annual operating revenue to continue to fund the new facility – little did they foresee what Wall Street had in mind that same year. Though never faltering in their quest to support the ICC, the development committee, and many generous donors weathered the tough economic time and successfully met their goal under the leadership of Board President John Spofford.

As with the many organizations on Fishers Island, the Community Center’s operations are reliant on both endowment income and annual giving contributions. The ICC recently concluded the successful 2013-2014 capital campaign to establish the Community Center’s Endowment Fund. This campaign was supported by a generous matching gift from the Crisp Family Foundation. In addition, gifts to the Annual Appeal are very important and facilitate the Center’s year-round operations while keeping the annual budget strong.

If you build it they will come…It is the people that ‘make’ the Community Center. Committees, organizations, island businesses, and individuals regularly rent and use the Center’s spaces for meetings, dinners and special events including thank you dinners, holiday parties, receptions, and birthday celebrations. This summer, we’ve seen year-round residents and seasonal visitors all taking advantage of the varied educational and extracurricular programs offered for every age group. Under the leadership of Community Center Director Elizabeth Reid, the summer programs have reached new heights, not only in attendance but also in the variety. This summer’s lineup boasts an art class, cooking demonstrations, yoga classes for both children and adults, a college application 101 class, dance classes for kids, and Kindersculls, a children’s rowing camp held at Dock Beach.

A busy summer filled with new memberships, diners, and people taking classes is the best possible way to ensure the Center stays open and active all year-round for residents and winter visitors alike.

We may take for granted what has quickly become an essential and thriving epicenter for this community. It is easy to overlook how carefully this place has been constructed, and easier still to believe it all effortlessly came to be. In reality, it took a determined group of people with one unified mission: to help bolster the overall well-being of the year-round Fishers Island community, and to attract those who wish to one day settle here permanently. With over 455 members, it is safe to say that if past efforts are an indication, this Community Center is in store for an especially bright future.

Click any image to see the larger images as a slideshow or photo gallery.

Pre-construction picnic with architect preview renditions

Getting ready for construction.

The transformation phase.

And ready to open.

Featured Photo

USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay . Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

A Fishers Island Community Center Program

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