Community Center Focuses On Helping Families | Families
Life in West Central Spokane has never been easy. Although it includes one of the largest historic districts, Nettleton's Addition, and many magnificent homes lining Summit Boulevard, it also carries the name "Felony Flats."
When the great recession hit, it hit West Central just like everywhere else. But when life is already a struggle, financial issues piled on top make it that much worse.
"Families are trying to save money so they send their nine or ten year old home alone," said Rick Harris standing in the community center's gym. "Numbers are down probably 50 percent."
Harris runs the before and after school program at the West Central Community Center.
"We want the kids to be active. We want to impact them is a positive way," said Harris.
It's a program where parents can drop their children off in the morning and know they will be safe.
"It's an affordable program," said Curt Chambers, who uses the program for his second grade son. "It has good connections with the school and neighborhood."
The cost of the program is based on income. In West Central, that means for the majority of families it costs about $170 a month for the program.
"We do have scholarships for families in financial distress," said Harris.
The Empire Health Foundation and Women Helping Women have made those scholarships possible.
Children begin to arrive as early as 6:30 in the morning and are there until they are taken to school by community center staff.
The program serves kids from Finch, Holmes and Audubon Elementary schools.
"I like being here when I was little," said 19-year-old Austin Duesterhoft. "I started volunteering when I was 16 and got hired here last summer."
Duesterhoft grew up in the West Central neighborhood. He wouldn't say he had it any harder than kids who grew up in south hill neighborhoods or on the north side.
"But there's a lot of stuff that goes on," said Duesterhoft. "This gives them something to do. Instead of running around the neighborhood, it's a safe place for them to come."
Duesterhoft says he will start college next year and hopes to continue working for the program while he works toward his degree.
"Austin is a shining example of what the program does," said Harris, who watched Duesterhoft grow up in the program. "He is such a good role model."
Duesterhoft wants to study science and technology and someday become a fire investigator.
The children are given the opportunity to take part in many activities each day including sports, games and crafts. Of course, some kids are prepared for emergencies.
"It gets way too wild on free play Friday. That's why I bring my cars," said 11-year-old James.
Today he was playing with his HotWheels even though it's not Friday.
"I'm just playing with my cars. I hurt my side when I tried kicking the ball," said James.
"I'm gonna ask my mom for some sticky pads to I can climb up walls," said 7-year-old Dylan as he excitedly talked to Harris about his Halloween plans.
Through the years, many children have gone through the program but many of the staff have remained the same. That's something that parents appreciate and the kids do as well.
"I really miss second grade because my teacher was really nice," said 8-year-old Heaven, who's a third grader at Holmes Elementary this year.
West Central will survive the economic downturn, and kids like Austin Duesterhoft will return to give back to their neighborhood.
Harris says he worries about funding for the program next year but right now is focussed on making a difference.
"Times are tough but we're finding ways to help families."