SPOKANE, Wash. — For close to five decades the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center in Spokane has provided services and support to the Spokane community.
As the outreach the MLK Center enters a new chapter they are keeping Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy alive.
On August 28, 1963 King stood before the crowd at the nation’s capitol and delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. It was a powerful message that inspired those struggling for equality across the nation to continue the fight. As Dr. King remarked his dream was an American dream. It was an aspiration that every person would have an opportunity to reach their potential.
Martin Luther King's dream takes shape within the walls of the Martin Luther Jr. Family Outreach Center. The MLK Center was dreamt up by a group of locals wanting to create a safe haven for local children.
"The center was started almost 50 years ago as a drop-in rec center for kids in the neighborhood that didn't have a safe place to be after school,” Executive Director Freda Gandy said.
That drop-in rec center would evolve into much more over the next 40 years. They moved into an old fire station on Sherman Street. This building housed a preschool and an after school program for elementary students.
The programs include meals and snacks, eye and hearing exams, tutoring and recreation. Many of the families the center serves are low-income. There about 80 children in the programs.
"The goal is to pretty much provide academic support to those kids after school when they are in our care and also help with social and emotional development as well as provide some enrichment activities,” Gandy said.
Countless families and children have been helped through the center and that includes Gandy. She said when she walked into the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center more than two decades ago she was a single parent, raising a young son while going to school and working.
"They were there to make sure he had what he needed to be successful in school and supported me while I continued my education," Gandy said.
Gandy started out as parent seeking services, then she began to volunteer. The aspiring counselor could have imagined she would end up running the MLK Center.
"It's so fortunate to be in a position to serve families when the center was there for me,” Gandy said.
Over the years, the center has had it fair share of issues. They have faced funding cuts and in 2017 the basement flooded which forced the center to temporarily close.United Way volunteers and staff loaded boxes of children’s books and toys into a storage pod outside the center until they were able to move everything back in.
As they dealt with the problems that come with an old building, Gandy and her team also wanted to provide more services to the community. So they considered raising $3 million for a new building. That was until the city asked local non-profits for a proposal to take over the East Central Community Center on Stone Street.
“The current facility we were in we were just bursting at the seams and we just did not have enough space to offer all the services we wanted to,” Gandy said.
On MLK Day of 2018, the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center officially reopened at ECCC.
"An absolutely perfect way to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day," said Mayor David Condon before he cut the ribbon.
There are classrooms, a gym, a Head Start office, a day room for senior citizens. ECCC also houses WIC and SNAP services.
But it is the food bank on site that gets the most visitors. About 300 people will go through each week. The center works in conjunction with Second Harvest and local groceries stores to provide produce, canned food and other items for families.
"Just being here, that support when they need help, when they need food, and just being able to see that giving. I love it,” Family Services Support Manager Adell Whitehead said.
The MLK Center also serves as a practicum for the area college students going into education, social work and medical fields.
With more plans to add onto the ECCC building and expand services there is no doubt the center is fulfilling Martin Luther King's dream.
"In 2020 it will be 50 years that the center has been here and serving families. Diverse children, diverse families, from all sorts of backgrounds, and we are definitely making sure that his is life and his legacy lives on in this organization,” Gandy said.