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Spokane Valley Community Center's assistance includes theater, school supplies, clinics

By Katie Knodel
Senior at Whitworth College

The faces of many people who walk through doors of the Spokane Valley Community Center express the fear they feel from a new experience of homelessness or last night’s abusive episode. 

Mollie Dalpae
Mollie Dalpae in the clothing bank

Seeing their faces saddens Mollie Dalpae, executive director of the center, at 10814 E. Broadway in Spokane Valley.

“People who walk through our doors are struggling, scared and fearful,” she described.  “Most have families to provide for, in addition to themselves, so they are willing to participate in programs the center offers to help them out of poverty.”

The center also responds to the people who come to the 12 nonprofits co-located there.

Before the center started in 1989, there was a food bank at one church and a clothing bank at another.  Seven Spokane Valley churches decided to collaborate to offer services in a central location, opening first on East First in an old carpet warehouse.  They started with a food bank, clothing bank and Catholic Charities’ Chore Services.  In 2005, the clothing bank served 26,000 people.

Four years ago, the center moved into its current location, the former Spokane Valley Church of the Nazarene, which relocated and built a new building. 

The center invested $2.2 million to transform it—dividing the sanctuary into the clothing bank and a 150-seat theater, the nursery into offices, downstairs classrooms into a Women’s Infants and Children (WIC) clinic and a health clinic, and upstairs rooms into offices for nonprofits.

Now 36 Spokane Valley churches are involved in providing monthly donations and even more churches recruit most of the 300 volunteers that make the programs possible, said Mollie, who attends St. Ann’s Catholic Church.

From her childhood in Renton Mollie remembers that her uncle, a Jesuit, visited underprivileged people, bringing encouragement and support.

“My grandmother, aunt and uncle provided kindness to neighbors,” said Mollie, who studied gerontology and sociology at San Jose State University.

She remained in San Jose to work in senior housing and case management before moving to Eastern Washington in 1993 to work with Spokane Community Mental Health and then turn attention to raising her three children.

Mollie Dalpae
Mollie Dalpae

After earning a master’s degree in social work and public administration at Eastern Washington University, she began working at the Spokane Valley Center.

Responding to needs of neighbors—lives of people behind the fearful faces—means the center to provide basic necessities, teach life skills that promote self-reliance and address emotional and psychological needs.

“We have seen a 20 percent increase in all services,” said Mollie. “About 25 percent of the families the center assists each month have never been there before.

“Each month, many new families discover they need outside help in order to survive,” she said.  “About 68 percent of the clients are married and 76 percent are working poor, making too little income to survive but just enough to be denied welfare.”

Churches, businesses, the utility company and schools refer people.

Mollie summarized some of the ways the center helps:

• The Smart Start School Supplies program pays for supplies for 1,800 children every school year.  Throughout August, churches, businesses and community members donate school supplies.

A child may take 10 minutes to find the perfect backpack or Scooby-do folder.  Mollie finds that allowing the children to find items they want instills in them excitement to go to school and learn.  Along with keeping children on track, the program means parents can pay other bills.

• Theater Arts for Children (TAC), a nonprofit at the center, also instills in children a desire to learn to read and learn.  The program teaches children the art of theater, and plays help children develop new friendships.  It puts on five plays a year and has participants from ages two to 70.

• Families not fully in compliance with new welfare regulations have their checks sent to the center where a protective payee ensures that children’s needs are met.

• The center also has helped children by addressing the domestic violence they experience or witness.  Safestart, another nonprofit, was located at the center until recent funding cuts for the Partners with Families and Children ended its ability to provide therapists for the children.

• The WIC Clinic, the largest in Spokane County, is run by the Regional Health District.  Open Mondays through Fridays, it serves 1,000 families a month —women who are pregnant and children through the age of five.  It offers support for pregnant women, and visiting nurses who go to homes the first six months after birth.  A health clinic for others is open only on Mondays.

• People who receive support from the center must participate in one of its money management, landlord-tenant or energy conservation classes.

Other programs include a Valentine card distribution; Coats 4 Kids winter coats distribution; Baby O Baby, which provides new clothing, diaper bags and layettes;  emergency assistance for prescriptions, utilities, rent and medical/dental assistance, and a Christmas gift program.

Other community agencies share the space so services are centralized.  They include the Valley Food Bank, Career Path Services, Spokane Neighborhood Action Program (SNAP), ValleyFest, Nicotine Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous and the Homeless Education and Resource Team (HEART).

SNAP provides energy assistance and does case management with homeless families who live in a house beside the center until they find employment and housing.

Career Path Services offers education for high school diplomas, a literacy program and placement in a pre-employment program.

 Just as people in the community rely on the center for support, the center relies on people in the community for support through various fund-raising events.

“The caring, compassionate nature of the surrounding community helps the center continue its mission,” she said, “so it can turn some fearful, scared faces into faces of joy and hope.”

Mollie’s caring recently extended to post-Hurricane Stan relief through a friend, David Dodroe, a volunteer for seven years at Santa Katherina, Guatemala. 

She went for nine days, from Nov. 22 to Dec. 2, taking medical supplies from the Catholic Diocese, shoes collected by Our Lady of Fatima, blankets made by women in Walla Walla, and crayons from children in Spokane to children in Guatemala.

For 20 years, the diocese has worked in Santa Katherina and Ixuatucan.  A women’s clinic it started has cut infant mortality in half, she said.

Mollie found rural poverty there different from poverty she encounters at the Spokane Valley Community Center.

“Village people are self-sufficient, living in a self-sustaining economy, growing their own food, making their own clothes and meeting other basic needs,” she said.  “They don’t need outside help, unless there is a disaster.”

In Guatemalan cities, however, as in Spokane Valley, people experiencing personal crises need programs and services.

For information, call 927-1153 or email mdalpae@aol.com.

 

The Fig Tree - © February 2006