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Dream moves from paper to concrete, wood, glass

From a dream to discussions to sketches on paper, the vision to build a South Central Spokane one-stop center for educational and social services has been transformed into concrete, wood, windows, a roof and siding.

Lonnie Mitchell
Lonnie Mitchell in new Emmanuel Family LIfe Center

Soon it will be filled with people serving people to move them from dependency to self-sufficiency.

Aiming to open the two-story, 17,000-square-foot new Emmanuel Family Life Center by June, the Rev. Lonnie Mitchell and Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church at 645 S. Richard Allen Ct. continue to take steps to make the congregation’s dream come to fruition.

 

Soon the building will be filled with preschoolers, after-schoolers, computer-lab users, community college students, adult-education seekers, health screeners, youth campers, seniors and nonprofit service providers.

The vision for the center began to be nurtured and developed in 1995. 

The Fig Tree photographed Lonnie with architect’s drawings in April 2001.  Construction started in April 2005, progressing each step as funding became available.

So far, Richard Allen Enterprises, named for the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, has raised $1 million for the $1.4 million anticipated costs to complete the building.

In November, Lonnie asked members to give $1 each Sunday toward costs.  Since then members have raised $5,000.

“It’s a faith walk, trusting God to complete the funding for the building,” Lonnie said.  “We hope it will be paid for by the time construction is completed, so we will have no loans attached to it.”

He reported that the Gates Foundation recently gave a challenge grant of $180,000, leaving more than $200,000 to be raised from church and community members.

Sixty community volunteers have signed up to help put up and complete the internal framing and drywall, carpeting, and electrical, plumbing and heating systems, with “sweat equity” like Habitat for Humanity house building, Lonnie said.  They will work in April and May under the supervision of the contractor.

Lonnie described the programs and people who will be in the building:

The lower floor will house a food bank, soup kitchen, multipurpose room, gymnasium, child-care center and the Richard Allen Youth Academy, which will expand to serve 70 children rather than the 32 they now serve.

Lonnie said the center seeks to add Head Start and ECEAP slots.

The second floor will house the computer center, the homework center for 17 to 20 children a day, after-school tutoring for children from several grade schools, and offices for several nonprofits.

Upstairs will be Institute for Extended Learning (IEL) adult classes, such GED and continuing education, and classrooms for the Community Colleges of Spokane Running Start and adult-education programs, Lonnie said.

“We want to bring courses to the community to accommodate our philosophy of moving people from dependency to self-sufficiency,” he explained.  “The center will be a one-stop shop for services to help children, youth, families and individuals improve the quality of their lives.”

The plan also includes offering health screening— mammograms, flu shots, dental services and preventive care—in an exam room where the Regional Health District can set up portable services.

Lonnie said they are still soliciting services to locate there.

The rental fee will be low cost to provide for utilities and upkeep. 

The 400-member church will gain space for a fellowship hall on the lower floor when the preschool moves into the new facility. 

Over the years since Lonnie came as pastor in 1991 when there were 13 members, the church has had to tear down walls and transform side rooms to accommodate the 250 to 300 worshippers who come each Sunday to its 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. services.

The numbers are less important to Lonnie than the diversity of the congregation, founded in 1890.

“I look out on the congregation Sundays, and it’s almost like heaven with people from all walks of life coming to experience the love of Jesus,” he said.  “It’s not just the faces, but an atmosphere of inclusiveness.  People are not worried about what color they are.  They come to experience the love of Jesus.

“When we preach Jesus, it happens automatically.  The majority come from the neighborhood, but many come from the South Hill, North Spokane and the Valley,” he said.  “We fellowship during worship, loosening up to worship the Lord together.”

Lonnie said the congregation has long embraced the community-minded philosophy that has led to the new center’s being part of Bethel’s “campus.” 

In 1972, the church built the New Bryant Arms, now Richard Allen Apartments with 56 HUD subsidized apartments and two apartments for elderly people.

In 1996, the church established Richard Allen Enterprises to provide support services to help people move towards self-sufficiency through education and economic empowerment.

The idea grew as an example of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) concept of “building community.”

The Bethel “campus” includes three independent nonprofit organizations: 1) Richard Allen Enterprises, which manages construction and will manage the Emmanuel Center operations; 2) the Southeast Neighborhood Network Center with the computer lab, education programs and a summer youth camp, and 3) Spokane’s Emmanuel Family Life Center which includes the Richard Allen Youth Academy, Senior Services and Care, and Health Screening.

The programs are geared to help the community resolve specific challenges, fostering involvement of diverse communities.

East Central Spokane is one of the low-income areas of the region, designated for revitalization by HUD. 

The description of the project includes the following information about the neighborhood:  The estimated per capita income of the nearly 11,200 residents in the neighborhood is about $8,800.  About 32 percent of the neighborhood identify as a minority:  African American, 17 percent; Asian or Pacific Islander, 7 percent; American Indian or Alaskan Native, 4 percent, and Hispanic or Latino, 4 percent.

For information, call 534-3007 or email revlonnie@yahoo.com.