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Fulfilling a need inside the Cedar Street Bridge

When Shery Meekings first walked into the Cedar Street Bridge Public Market in downtown Sandpoint, her mind began to race.

As an artist, she viewed it as a place where creativity could come to life.

“It would be beautiful as an arts and performance center,” said Meekings of her initial reaction to the Sandpoint landmark that is modeled after the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Florence, Italy.

The Bridge was closed for a short time a couple of years ago after flooding forced tenants from the property. But it has been renovated and is slowly coming back to life.

Meekings opened up her studio, The Gallery at Cedar Street Bridge, and is now also the manager of the Bridge.

With a lot of empty space yet to fill, Meekings came up with the idea of transforming part of the Bridge into a family centered community facility for children and adults.

Meekings named the place Creations, and is in the process of forming a board of directors and obtaining nonprofit status.

The first thing Meekings wanted to do was to have a place where children could play on indoor play equipment supervised by their parents.

Judy Labrie has been assisting Meekings with making her vision a reality.

As the advocate supervisor and case manager for 1st Judicial District Court-appointed special advocates, Labrie interacts daily with families whose children are removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. Having a place where parents can go to interact on an informal basis is critical, said Labrie.

“In the summer people can meet at City Beach, but where can they go in the wintertime?” she said. “The whole concept (of a community facility) is a loving way to support young families in Sandpoint.”

The space for the play area has been donated by Jeff Bond and John Gillham, owners of the Cedar Street Bridge.

“That’s a really generous gift to the community,” said Labrie.

Situated at the back end of the first floor of the Bridge, the space is bright with large windows offering visitors a breathtaking view of this area.

“It is typical that many of the moms who I come across don’t have family or social support,” said Labrie of what she sees with abusive or neglectful mothers who are under a lot of stress.

“This (Creations) is peacemaking in action,” she said. “Getting kids out of the house and having an indoor space where people can connect helps families who are under stress.”

The indoor play area will have space for children up to 12, separating the age groups for safety as well as for age appropriate learning and interaction.

“All of the activities include the parent or guardian,” said Labrie. “It is not a place to drop off your child. Instead it is a chance to connect with each other, both the child and the adult.”

But there is much more to Creations than a play area. There are dance classes and art classes where children and their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles can create and interact for a nominal fee.

Meekings said one of the goals of Creations is to encourage families in the community to explore the world of art and she is including kids from area youth groups, the Sandpoint Teen Center and others in her fundraising activities.

“This really opens the doors to get kids exposed to art,” said Meekings.

Some of the performing art classes currently offered include dance, yoga, jazz and ballet. At a recent art class kids were invited to design a custom T-shirt and from those designs Meekings would choose some of them to be used in the fundraising efforts for the indoor playground equipment.

Her initial goal is to raise $10,000 through various fundraising efforts which include the sales of Christmas wreaths, decorated bird houses made by the teens at the Sandpoint Teen Center, and other activities. But she is not stopping there.

To ensure they are accessible to everyone who is interested, the classes are offered at low cost or no cost, depending upon the class. Artists in the community who would like to teach a class can also talk to Meekings about using the facility free of charge. It can also serve as a great place to host a birthday party for kids, she adds.

Meekings said the benefit from Creations will extend far beyond that of the families who utilize the space. The play area and art and performance classes will attract a large number of adults and children which, she says, will benefit the Cedar Street Bridge businesses as well as other downtown businesses.

But the real difference will come in the informal mentoring that is sure to take place among the children and adult members of the community.

“It only takes one solid adult to make an impact on a child’s life,” said Meekings.