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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

YWCA Women of Achievement: Martin Luther King Center director earns Carl Maxey Racial and Social Justice Award

Freda Gandy has been awarded the 2019 Carl Maxey Racial and Social Justice Woman of Achievement award by the YWCA. (Nina Culver / The Spokesman-Review)

Freda Gandy came to Spokane from Mississippi to study developmental psychology at Eastern Washington University, but never thought she’d end up entering the nonprofit world and becoming and advocate for the poor as the director of the Martin Luther King Center.

“At that time my dream was to be a school counselor, but you know, life happens,” she said.

Gandy has been awarded the 2019 Carl Maxey Racial and Social Justice Woman of Achievement award by the YWCA. She is one of 10 women selected by the YWCA to receive an award at the organization’s annual luncheon set for 11:30 a.m. Oct. 11, at the Spokane Convention Center. Tickets are $125 and available by calling (509) 789-9312.

Gandy became a single mother while attending EWU and discovered the Martin Luther King Center. She sent her son to preschool there and volunteered there. “I just fell in love with the non-profit area,” she said. “I got to first-hand experience people in a social service agency who were rooting for me as a single mom. I said to myself, ‘I want to be in that role.’

“When you’re over 2,000 miles from family you find another family and I found that family at the Martin Luther King Center and I’ve been here ever since.”

She soon took a paid position at the MLK Jr. Center as a kindergarten teacher, then worked as the family services coordinator and the director of children’s services before becoming the director nine years ago. “I just have a passion for helping people,” she said.

Gandy has led the center through some difficult times, including expanding from its location at 845 S. Sherman Ave. “We had decided that our existing location was a bit small,” she said. “it used to be an old fire station. We were growing rapidly.”

She launched a capital campaign to build a new building, but then heard that the city of Spokane was looking for an organization to manage the East Central Community Center. The MLK Jr. Center took over management of the community center at 500 S. Stone St. in 2017. The previous services, including a SNAP office, a WIC office and a food bank, remain.

Gandy said the Martin Luther King Jr. Center is a social service agency that offers an early learning program and before- and after-school care. People living in the 99202 ZIP code can also receive help with rent and utilities emergencies.

Many of the people helped by the center are single parents, Gandy said. The organization embodies the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by providing help to all, she said.

“We’re not just an organization for African Americans,” she said.

Gandy said she has sometimes struggled with her role in the community. “It’s very hard to be a woman, especially a woman of color, in an executive role, especially at a nonprofit,” she said. “You are at a table with a whole bunch of people who don’t look like you. It’s hard to walk in that room and be the only woman of color. That is the norm for me on a day-to-day basis.”

Gandy said she was surprised to be nominated for the award and said she normally doesn’t like being the center of attention. She also doesn’t know who nominated her. “They don’t tell you,” she said. “I do not like the spotlight. I was just so grateful and thankful that someone nominated me.”

Though her role as a women of color who is also the head of a social service agency can sometimes be difficult, Gandy has no regrets.

“This is where I should be and this is what I should be doing,” she said.