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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

MLK Center plans open house, ribbon cutting in East Central neighborhood

Elijah Belcourt, left, leads a youth athletic activity on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, at East Central Community Center in Spokane, Wash. The Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center took over operations of the center on Jan. 1. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The longstanding Spokane family assistance program bearing Martin Luther King Jr.’s name is in the process of moving into new digs in the East Central neighborhood.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center took over operations of the neighborhood’s community center at 500 S. Stone St. on Jan. 1. Over the next several months, the nonprofit will move most of its services from the former firehouse on Sherman Street where the organization has been providing income assistance, child care and other services since 1985.

“The hope is that this will end up being a one-stop shop,” said Freda Gandy, executive director of the center.

The organization won a controversial bidding process to take over management of the center, eventually earning a 4-2 vote from the Spokane City Council to operate the aging facility and take over for the existing nonprofit, the East Central Community Organization. Both organizations accused the selection process of bias.

Gandy said she’s hired an all-new staff that will top out at around 17 people. An existing child care program serving 65 children still operates out of nearby Grant Elementary School, but will eventually be moved to the building on Stone Street that shares a parking lot with the East Central branch of the Spokane Public Library.

The city is still waiting on $500,000 as part of the state’s capital budget to build a dental clinic for low-income residents within the new center, which would be able to serve young children who require exams before entering federally funded day care programs, Gandy said.

“Ideally, we’d offer more,” Gandy said. “It can feel like there’s these barriers to service, but if you can simply walk down the hallway to get help with your utility bill, those barriers go away.”

The MLK Family Outreach Center had launched a campaign to raise money to build a new facility, but Gandy said that money will instead go to upgrading the existing building.

The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program also maintains an office at the center, as does SNAP, which provides an array of services for those facing financial difficulties.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place at the center on Monday following the conclusion of the Martin Luther King march and rally downtown, Gandy said. There will be an open house to recruit workers and new board members for the nonprofit, and lunch will be served. The nonprofit will also be accepting donations.

Eventually, the organization will look to rename the building after the civil rights leader and the organization, Gandy said. That will likely take place after all the group’s programming moves to the new location, sometime in late spring, she said.

For now, the group wants neighborhood residents to know the center is open through the transition, offering services that include activities for seniors and a food bank.

“We are in here now, and we’re taking every challenge as it comes,” Gandy said.