By Jenny Neyman
For a place for art, music, dance, pottery, scrapbooking and other creative endeavors to be held in all their loud, messy glory. Where cooking classes can be taught and a community garden maintained. Offering training in employment, communication and writing skills.
Where dances, holiday celebrations and other festivities can bring people together for the sole purpose of social interaction. For all these varied activities and more under one roof, all facilitating one goal — to support those with disabilities and their families in the community.
That’s the hope of Hope Community Resources, which is embarking on construction and a funding campaign for a new community center to serve the Kenai Peninsula from its Soldotna regional office off Kalifornsky Beach Road.
“Just like for everybody else, inclusion really is having a sense of belonging and being in a community where you feel like you do belong. I think we all crave that. The population we support often are ostracized and not valued. And I think that’s our big focus, making sure everyone that comes into our facility knows that they do have a place where they belong,” said Holly Scott, director of community support services for Hope Community Resource’s Kenai Region, which covers the peninsula outside the Seward area.
Hope serves people with disabilities and their families, with a particular emphasis on inclusion and community integration, in several areas of the state — Anchorage, Barrow, Kodiak, Juneau, Sitka, Dillingham and the peninsula. Services are tailored to the needs of each person. Likewise, each regional office tailors itself to its community, Scott said. The Kodiak region, for example, which Scott used to represent, included a strong recreational program, with Special Olympics and a fish camp being especially popular. In the Matanuska-Susitna region, the area’s agricultural nature is reflected in a ranch and various associated programs.
On the peninsula, community interaction is a main identifying quality of Hope’s program.
“Here on the Kenai Peninsula we do a lot of collaborations. It’s kind of interesting because a lot of people that have come from outside regions have really been impressed about just how community oriented the Kenai Peninsula is and seeing us doing lot of community events,” Scott said.
Given that, a community center is simply a necessity. But the one currently in use — a church building behind Ellis Automotive off K-Beach Road purchased in 2006 and opened after renovations in 2008, just isn’t big enough to meet the needs for the space. Hope has been operating on the Kenai since 2004, growing from serving a handful of families at first to about 150 now, Scott said.
Employees and programs likewise have grown, creating staff need for space, as well. The administration office used to be in the Red Diamond Center, with the renovated church building serving as a community center to hold activities, classes, events and gatherings for clients.
“That community center, basically it’s the hub of all activities. So people meet there and they’ll go out and do community activities, or do their activities in the building,” Scott said.
With Hope’s bent toward community collaboration, several other organizations in the area would use the space to offer programs in which Hope clients could participate. For instance, the Cooperative Extension Service has held cooking classes, the Peninsula Art Guild has offered pottery classes and other artists have taught glassmaking and sewing/quilting, Scott said. Before long, the list of other organizations using the space grew along with Hope’s need for the building, including the Thread Program, Stone Soup Group, Special Olympics, Assistive Technology of Alaska, Autism Speaks and Peninsula Key Coalition.
And it became quickly apparent that there was a need for general meeting space, even beyond anything related to Hope’s clients.
“At the time we had tons of people, lots of small groups would use it — people would rent it out to do craft bazaars, scrapbooking Saturdays, baby showers, we had a wedding there, we had a memorial service. It was still kind of like a church fellowship hall. As we grew, so did the need for the building,” Scott said.
Hope added on to the back of the building in 2008 and moved its administration office to the addition, but consolidating locations only further limited general use of the space.
“There’s been a huge growth with people we support. With that we have a lot of employees, so just doing our own internal kind of stuff we need a building. But we also need a community building, which is what the families have wanted. A year after we moved the administrative offices we really started looking into getting a true community center that would do a lot — where we could host our activities and also invite the community back in like we used to,” Scott said.
The plan is to construct a new facility onsite, doubling the capacity of the old, designed and built to meet the accessibility needs of its clients with disabilities.
The new building will have a 1,947-square-foot open layout multipurpose room, as well as a kitchen, bathroom, shower, laundry, mechanical, janitorial and storage spaces. There will be two meeting rooms, a conference room and a meditation room, so various activities can happen at once. That’s been difficult to do in the current space, particularly if one activity was going to be potentially disruptive to another. And when you’re singing, making art or otherwise having a good time, who wants to be told to keep it down all the time?
“I think our art and music (will particularly benefit from the new space),” Scott said. “We’ve tried to incorporate music and dance, but artwork can be very messy. And the same with music — we haven’t been able to have a lot of noise. Having the multiple rooms will be able to separate that out and have an art space where people can get messy. Those are the activities where people have had the most fun. So, for me, it’s being able to walk in and see the joy on people’s faces because they’re creating. That’s the one part that I’m looking forward to the most for the building. And I think that the people that we support as well as our staff recognize that, as well, and the same with our families. So that’s why there’s a big push to get the facility done.”
Hope has secured some legislative, grant and foundation funding for construction, and plans to chip in, as well, Scott said. The project cost is estimated at $1.5 million, of which $725,000 is already secured, she said. Hope is launching a local funding campaign with a goal to raise $60,000. The fundraising committee is currently brainstorming what that will entail — possibly selling bricks in the building or some other way of visually recognizing contributors in the building. People can donate now through Hope’s website, at www.hopealaska.org, and can contact development director Jennifer Harrington at 907-433-4912.
Construction will get underway with a groundbreaking ceremony at 5 p.m. Sept. 9 at 47202 Princeton Ave. off Kalifornsky Beach Road. Additional parking is available at Ellis Automotive. It is open to the public.