Neighborhood commitment brings multicultural ties
Because of Spencer Grainger’s commitment to serve his neighborhood, the Liberty Park/Grant School area of Spokane, he interacts daily with children whose families come from Burma, Vietnam, Sudan, Eritrea, Kenya and Iraq.
Spencer Grainger describes the services of the Liberty Park Child Development Center.
The Liberty Park Child Development Center, where he is program and development director, is situated in the Liberty Park Apartments, which provide subsidized, temporary housing at 1417 E. Hartson. Many people who live there and elsewhere in the neighborhood are refugees.
Along the edge of the reception desk in the center’s office are greetings in the 13 languages children there speak, an example of the cross-cultural communication that occurs there.
The four-year-olds whose families come from around the world pick up English readily. They are at about the same language development level as native English speaking neighborhood four-year-olds, Spencer said.
The center’s 35 pre-kindergarteners, its up to 30 before- and after-school children, and the children in its summer program include African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and children of other races. Their demographics match Grant Elementary School’s ratio of 50 percent white and 50 percent from various racial and ethnic backgrounds.
While most of the children are from the neighborhood, some come from other areas of the city.
Despite starting 30 years ago to provide day care for poor families, the Liberty Park Child Development Center now focuses “on investing in the community to prepare the next generation of leaders for our community, our city and our world,” said Spencer.
Believing that any of the children from economically challenged households could become a mayor or the President, he said the center’s role is more than just to watch children until their parents pick them up.
Teachers expect the children will be “leaders in a changing world,” so they guide the children to have a voice in what their classrooms will be like.
To express that vision, the center changed its logo from three children of diverse races to three flowers, each with five multi-colored petals shaped like hands to represent growing children and community, Spencer said.
The pre-kindergarten classroom is like the natural world with a tree and wildlife, a solar system hung from the 20-foot tall ceiling and a view overlooking the city.
Spencer began in July as one of three administrative staff supporting the work of two teachers in the state-funded Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) and two teachers in the before- and after-school Champions Program.
The ECEAP program, which is for four-year-olds, also provides families with education, health, social services, nutrition education and parent events.
Spencer, who grew up in Spokane and has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years, said the before- and after-school programs mentor children in life skills, tutor them and help them with homework, so they have time with their families when they go home.
The life skills include learning to resolve conflicts in productive ways and to resist peer pressure to abuse drugs. They also include Christian education.
In the summer program, teachers take the children out of the building every day to museums, parks, theaters, farms, science centers, swimming pools, splash pads and vacation Bible schools. They go on walks and learn to use public transportation. They play games and create arts-and-crafts projects.
“We give children skills and connect them to the city so they will want to stay here and make it better,” said Spencer, who also works as adjunct faculty at Whitworth University, teaching and mentoring students in administrative leadership.
After earning a master’s degree in public administration from Eastern Washington University in 2008, he began working as the director of Pathways to Progress and later as interim executive director at Emmanuel Family Life Center when it opened in 2009.
Spencer made a commitment to attend a church within walking distance from his home, so he and his family attended Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. He has also attended other churches in the South Perry neighborhood to help connect those churches to the surrounding neighborhood.
When he and his wife Stacie first married, they lived near the Cathedral of St. John and attended there.
Having grown up in nondenominational churches, it was a shift when he became part of the Episcopal cathedral, which overlooks and is an integral part of Spokane.
He found the sound of the cathedral’s carillon a reminder to the community of its presence. In contrast to the concept of a church focusing on building community inside its walls, he found the cathedral has a positive impact on the community around it.
“I’m committed to make a connection between the church and the surrounding community,” Spencer said, “as part of my understanding of the great commandment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
“It’s not always easy to love our neighbors, to connect with people along the way as the Good Samaritan did. My neighbors may be broken and frayed.
“My neighbors are more than the people I go to church with,” he said. “I love the people who live in the spot where I live. We are to be Christians in our community as a practical response to Christ’s calling. We are to love folks who are not in church and may be different.”
“We try to be our neighborhood’s response to Christ in a time when churches often do not connect with their neighbors,” he continued. “My interest in Liberty Park is in response to my call to serve neighbors. I have two children, and I am called to relate with neighbors so they will grow up in a healthy neighborhood. I want neighborhood children to grow up loving their neighborhood.”
At Eastern Washington University, while managing a service-learning project and through the urban planning department at EWU, he began to consider the relationship of churches and their surrounding neighborhoods.
On a study abroad program in England in 2003, he learned of the evolution of British cities, such as Liverpool, which was almost bombed to nothing, losing half of the people, infrastructure and historic buildings.
“In England, I also looked at the importance of churches in the evolution of cities, including their road systems and land use. I considered the impact of the physical presence of churches and government as having a vital role in the development of community,” he said.
Liberty Park Child Development Center is an outreach of the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest with funding primarily from area Presbyterian churches, grants, individual donations and scholarships. It receives food reimbursements from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food program for child-care centers, and meals are cooked on site.
The ECEAP program is funded through the state of Washington. Christian education occurs only in the before- and after-school program.
The center seeks to be a neighborhood hub, partnering with nearby organizations to provide services.
It partners with First, Bethany, Hamblen Park, Manito and Whitworth Presbyterian churches in Spokane; Community Presbyterian in St Maries, Idaho; Marcus Whitman Presbyterian in Des Moines, Wash.; and the Bethel B.A.S.I.C. Gospel Choir, the Tree of Sharing, Project Warm-Up and the nearby Windfall Thrift Store.
It also partners with the South Perry Business and Neighborhood Association, Liberty Park United Methodist Church, Emmaus Church, Bethel AME, and the Buddhist Temple for the South Perry Street Fair on the third Saturday of July.
Spencer said the center accepts volunteers to assist in the classrooms, on field trips, with reading, in the office and with maintenance.
For information, call 534-0957 or visit libertyparkkids.org.
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