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Martin Luther King Jr Outreach Center plans expansion

After years of dreaming about expanding facilities to serve more children and families, Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center and the City of Spokane have agreed that the city will sell the former firehouse the center has occupied for nearly 30 years to the center.

Freda Gandy and Mayor Condon
Freda Gandy and Mayor David Condon announce building sale agreement.

In a Dec. 8 press conference at the center, Mayor David Condon said the center is “a long-time partner in making Spokane safer and stronger,” because its staff and volunteers serve children and families to broaden their opportunities.

The center “provides the community with a significant benefit,” said the mayor, because its services provide “tools that serve families and children for a lifetime.”

The City Council approved the agreement on Dec. 15.

The center offers free preschool programs for eligible families, parent education programs, after-school and summer-learning programs, job training and teen leadership programs, volunteer programs and diversity promotion.

“That work helps families in our communities prepare our next generation to dream big and achieve great successes,” David said.

The agreement enables the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center to continue serving as a community resource and build a new building to house its programs.

The purchase price of $132,000 is based on an independent opinion of the building’s value, he said.  In the agreement, the center will be given credit for $123,069 in improvements it has made as a tenant.  It will cover the remaining balance and closing costs. The deal closed the end of 2014.

Freda Gandy, executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center for 16 years, said the center has provided programs and services to children, youth and families for more than 40 years.

“It’s important to have a modern-day facility that will accommodate our programs, so we stay in mission and do not sacrifice quality to gain quantity,” she said.  “We will stay focused on what we do well, aware that we cannot meet every need.”

In 1970, 14 clergy started the program as the Southeast Youth Center, a drop-in recreation center for neighborhood youth in the basement of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  In 1975, it became the Martin Luther King Memorial Center and added programs for education, jobs, counseling and more.

In 1985, the center relocated to the former firehouse at 845 S. Sherman under an agreement with the City of Spokane to lease the building for $1 a year.  It became a United Way agency and has been funded by the city’s Community Development Program, churches, businesses and individuals.

“Our mission is to improve the quality of life for children, youth and families through culturally responsive educational and social services within the framework of Dr. King’s vision of equal respect, treatment and accessibility for all people,” said Freda.  “Over the years, it has evolved into a comprehensive social service agency providing a variety of social and educational services.”

With the growing needs of children and families, the center has reached capacity in the 4,000-square-foot former fire station and adjacent 800-square-foot house with offices and family service programs.

By purchasing the building, the center can tear down both to build a new two-story, 10,000-square-foot facility, doubling their space.

United Way, Spokane Public Schools and Grant Elementary School partnered with the center when it was no longer feasible to operate the after-school program in the current facility. 

For more than a year, Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center’s after-school program has been offered at Grant School for children from Grant, Sheridan, Roosevelt and Franklin schools.

Community Colleges of Spokane recently opened additional preschool slots and added funds to expand the preschool program to prepare children for kindergarten.

George Watson of Watson & Herris Architects has developed preliminary plans for a $2.2 million facility, which the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center board has approved.

“It took a community effort to make this happen,” said City Council member Jon Snyder, who lives in the neighborhood. 

The center serves 100 children a year.  The ECEAP program recently expanded from serving 37 children to serve 47.  The center’s after-school program has grown from 20 in the basement to 50 at Grant, using a classroom, the gym and multipurpose room after school every day.

“The bigger facility will mean we can serve more children and families, but we are committed to keep the high quality of our services for existing programs,” Freda said.  “We will start our capital campaign in 2015.

The center will seek state funding and support from grants, businesses and individuals for the building project.

“Given federal and state cuts, the need for preschool programs and after-school programs is increasing.  Several neighborhood programs have been cut,” said Freda, who helps with both programs.  “There aren’t many options in the neighborhood for working families.”

The center serves families who are diverse socially and economically—single parent families, dual-parent families, foster-care families and refugee families. Currently most of the refugees are Iraqi.  The after-school program has many Marshallese children and Spanish-speaking children who need help with English.

The new building will have four classrooms on the main floor and rooms upstairs for family services and offices.

“It is designed to look residential to blend with the neighborhood,” said George.  “It will also help Freda have the space necessary to meet the needs.  We hope to complete it by fall 2017 or earlier.”

The playground, which was renovated and rebuilt in 2005 by Home Depot and Kaboom, will be maintained and stay accessible to neighborhood children, Freda said. 

It includes a covered picnic area, important for feeding the 60 children in the summer program, plus 15 to 20 more who come from the neighborhood.

The biggest hurdle, said Freda, will be where to house the preschool during construction. 

“We have 47 children here, 10 of which come for all day—six to 10 hours on five days a week—and 38, one group 20 and the other 18, come half days—three hours four days a week,” Freda said.

“Currently, the pre-school program is state funded, so we are unable to serve families who do not qualify for state funding,” she said.  “With additional space we will be able to have blended classrooms to include more.”

Freda knows that to move the dream into reality will take much hard work and collaboration.

“As our needs developed over the years, we knew that the existing space was not enough to expand the programs and provide high quality services.  We needed space conducive to what we do.

“I’ve learned that the community cares when they see people in need. They step up and rise to the occasion,” she said.  “When in 2011 we thought we would have to close because we did not have a fire sprinkler system, I went on TV.”

The Sprinkler Fitters’ Union offered to help so the center’s legacy would continue.  Since learning of plans to build, the union has come by and offered to help.

“Support for the center is vast and diverse, from family members, people who use the services and community members who want to care for children,” Freda said.

For information, call 455-8722 or visit mlkspokane.org.

Plans for the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in Spokane include:

• At 7 p.m., Friday, Jan. 16, there will be a one-man benefit performance at the Bing Crosby Theatre, 901 W. Sprague, of “Call Mr. Robeson,” about civil rights activist Carl Robeson.

• From 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 17, the center will hold its Martin Luther King  Luncheon at the Spokane Community College Lair, 1801 N. Greene, featuring children reading their essays.

• From 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 18, the annual Commemorative Celebration will be held at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 645 S. Richard Allen Ct.

• At 10 a.m., Monday, Jan. 19, the rally will be held.  The march in downtown Spokane begins and ends at the Spokane Convention Center, where the Resource Fair will present displays of nonprofits.

For information, call 455-8722.





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