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Center seeks to double its capacity

Freda Gandy, director of MLK Family Outreach Center, is beside art by children.

Aiming to double its capacity to serve children and families, the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center is launching a capital campaign to build a new, two-story facility to replace the fire house and house at 845 S. Sherman.

The center started in 1970 as a drop-in recreation center for school-aged children in the basement of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  It moved to the fire station in 1982, renting the building from the city for $1 a year. 

Last December, the center purchased the building so it could tear it down to build the new facility.  Under the lease, renovations had been limited.

Freda Gandy, executive director of the center, and the board are kicking off the campaign, “Building Dreams,” at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Rally and March that begins at 10 a.m., Monday, Jan. 18.

They hope that many of the 3,000 people who usually attend that event will donate to supplement grants from government and private sources toward the total project cost of $3 million. 

The focus in 2016 will be fund raising. Construction will begin in 2017.  During construction, the center’s offices, programs, family services and preschool will be in another location. 

“We want families and children of diverse backgrounds to receive services they need in a multicultural center, where people are treated equally and respectfully, and where no one is turned away because of skin color or situation,” said Freda. 

Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center helps parents be better parents, people transition from homelessness and poverty, families find jobs, and people write and review resumes.

“I have seen families move from shelters to find jobs and become stable,” she said.  “I have seen foster parents open their doors to children in need.  I have seen children affected by trauma be in trauma-sensitive environments, where they learn and grow.”

In addition, Freda has seen university student interns enter social work after practicum experiences there that enhance their ability to work with children and families who live in poverty.

Freda Gandy on the playground of the MLK Center

That was Freda’s own experience.

Her son Demarcie was four when she first came through the doors of the center to have him participate in the ECEAP preschool program.  Now he’s 21.

Freda, who was studying developmental psychology at Eastern Washington University to be a school counselor, began to volunteer.  Then she came on staff as a teacher and continued at the center after she graduated in 1995, working as a social worker and as the director of children’s services before becoming executive director.

“This project is dear to my heart,” she said.  “Over the years, I have watched services expand and seen their impact on diverse families and the community.”

The new building will mean all the services can be under one roof. 

“It’s important for us to stay in this neighborhood so we are accessible to families and schools by bus and walking,” Freda said.

The children’s services serve 80 children in the before- and after-school programs, summer program and preschool.  The after-school program is currently at Grant School.

Freda plans to keep the partnership with the school district while raising funds and during the construction phase.

“It’s been good to partner with Grant Elementary School, where 35 children from Grant, Sheridan and Franklin are in the after-school program.  In addition, there are 47 children in the preschool,” Freda said.  “The new facility will make it possible to serve 150 children and serve teens year round, rather than just in the summer.”

The 10-week summer teen program was designed for 10 teens, but had up to 25.  In a teen space in the new building, students will have help with homework, be mentored and be in leadership programs year-round.

MLK Outreach Center buildings -former fire station and house will be replaced in 2017.

Last year, 1,800 families used referral services for rent and utility assistance, help with back-to-school supplies and holiday assistance.

Freda said the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center also expands the capacity of nonprofits to work together in collaborative efforts for families. 

“We do not do everything for families, but refer families to other services and resources they need,” she said. 

Its family services connect with Child Protective Services, foster care visitation, parenting classes and counseling.

The parenting classes are using a new curriculum that builds secure attachments and relationships to help families and children—in their homes or when children are removed from their homes—deal with anger management and use positive discipline. 

“We will work with the state on parent-child visitations for children in foster care in a safe environment under the supervision of social workers who will support the parents’ growth and development.

“In the current facilities, we cannot do enough,” Freda added.  “The state has parents and children on a waiting list and needs more providers for visitations and parenting classes.”

More space and services will mean there will be need for more staffing to build the center’s capacity in administration and programs, which in turn will require increasing the donor base.

The Spokane Ministers’ Fellowship has become involved and has planned a Prayer Breakfast from 9 to 10:30 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 9, in Hemmingson Center Ballroom at Gonzaga University to build support from the faith community to pray for and support the center, the families, the programs and the campaign.

“We want to keep in the forefront that Dr. King was a minister.  One way to keep his legacy alive is to have a building where no one is turned away,” said Freda.  “The fire station has served us well, but it’s time for the city to have a modern facility named after Dr. King to embody his life and legacy for the next 40 years.”

The MLK Center organizes the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Commemorative Service, at 4 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 17, at Morning Star Baptist Church, 3909 W. Rowan, and the March, Rally and Resource Fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday, Jan. 18, at the Spokane Convention Center.

The resource fair is part of its collaborative effort to bring social service agencies together to see what services are available.  It brings together people who serve others with people in need. 

For information, call 455-8722 or visit

Copyright © January 2016 - The Fig Tree