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MLK Center expands programs into East Central Community Center

Freda Gandy said artist Erica Roscoe donated her services to paint something beautiful to cover racist graffiti put on the house.

The Spokane City Council voted on Oct. 16 to award a four-year contract to the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach (MLK) Center. It will assume operations of the East Central Community Center on Jan. 1.

The contract pays the Center $350,000 the first three years and $325,000 the fourth year.

Freda Gandy, executive director, who has been at the MLK Center for 16 years, recognizes there is a need to repair some relationships to build community unity and support around serving the neighborhood, because some had supported continuing the contract with the East Central Community Organization.

She plans to involve the community in designing programs and services.

When it was clear the MLK Center was outgrowing its current facilities in two buildings on Sherman, it had planned to tear down the two structures and build a two-story building there.

Last spring, however, when the City of Spokane issued a request for proposals for nonprofits to manage and operate the East Central Community Center, Freda and the board developed a proposal to sustain their existing programs and bring them together with the services at the ECCC, including continuing Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program (SNAP) as tenants.

“We make referrals to WIC and SNAP regularly, so being there gives our clients more access to those services and others,” she said. “The more we offer under one roof the more services people can access with less time and without added transportation.”

The MLK center will collaborate with the Community Colleges of Spokane Head Start/ECEAP program to offer Early Head Start as another service to serve children from birth to three years old, along with serving children from three to five years old in the ECEAP program, which will expand from serving 40 children half days to serving 60 all day.

“For working parents, it’s not practical for the program to be three hours just four days a week,” Freda said.

The after-school program for children from five to 12 years old will be moved from Grant Elementary School, and will be able to serve 120 children instead of just the 60 now involved.

The teen program will expand to year round, rather than just summer.

“Our vision is to serve multiple generations,” she said.

The ECCC’s senior program, food bank and program for people with disabilities will continue.

There are plans to add a dental clinic, and there is a goal to open a health clinic in the future. 

Another plan is to have an office for an officer from the Spokane Police Department, and eventually to have a precinct housed there.  This will give officers access to the community to build relationships and trust with youth, and for officers to know neighborhood people, particularly people of color, as human beings.

After the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center has the building on Jan. 1, it will keep its services in the present location through late spring while it does renovations to make more classrooms in the 30,000-square-foot building.

During the winter and spring, Freda plans to “hang out” at the ECCC to meet seniors, food bank operators, WIC and SNAP staff to learn about gaps and needs.

The playground at the present MLK site will stay because it is used by so many neighborhood children and families, Freda said.

The MLK Center will keep the Sherman buildings and move the ECCC day-care for adults with disabilities there, giving that program, which is now in one room at the East Central Community Center, space to grow with access to a classroom with computers, space for quiet time, and space to do arts and crafts.

The house will be used for storage and therapy services.

The two sites will operate as the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, Freda said, once the name change goes through.

In her years in the nonprofit field, Freda continually has sought to “stay in tune with services needed by Spokane’s most vulnerable populations,” she said.

Hiring a recreation manager will allow the after-school program to identify recreation activities and sports the grade school students want.  The gym may be open for six days, rather than just five.

To accommodate the expansion in programs, the MLK Center board plans to expand from 17 staff to 35, with the additional funding from the city to manage and operate the center. 

They will hire managers for 1) the ECEAP program, 2) the before- and after-school programs, and the teen summer and leadership program, 3) family support services, 4) programs for people with disabilities, seniors and the supervised visitation program for children in foster care to visit biological parents, 5) the nutrition team to serve meals to infants, toddlers and seniors in the commercial kitchen, 6) the recreation program and 7) custodians. The managers will design and staff their programs.

The MLK Center has leased the building for 15 years and has a contract to operate it from the City for four years.  It must demonstrate success for funding to be renewed.

“Our success with the MLK center is rooted in best practices and identifying long-term funding for quality programs,” she said.  “We have to prove ourselves.”

The MLK Center brings a unique approach, serving people of various backgrounds, based on the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

“His dream is for more than the African-American community,” she said.  “We want all to feel welcome and to increase the diversity of those the ECCC serves.”

Freda cares about the community, children and families, and will rely on her relationships within the city and community to make the visions reality. 

The MLK Center has community support from its 40 years and will continue to ask for support.

For information, call 455-8722 or email

Copyright © January 2018- The Fig Tree