HOPE Community Resource Inc.,’s Kenai Community Center opened Thursday, four weeks ahead of schedule.
By early afternoon the new facility was already filled to the brim with members of the public, clients and their families and caregivers, participating in a mixed bag of activities that had once been troublesome to access.
“There is just no limit to the things that can happen in this building,” said Dennis Haas, a parent and member of the Community Resource Team, who many attribute as the first to conceptualize the hub.
Haas’s daughter is 33, nonverbal and bound to a wheel chair due to a severe disability. He was one of the six families that invited Hope, a statewide organization, to begin operating on the Central Kenai Peninsula 11 years ago.
“Eighty-three people showed up,” Haas said. “At that very meeting Hope promised to help us out.”
Within weeks the first oofice designated for HOPE services was outgrown, Haas said. HOPE continued to grow from there, he said. Haas and the resource team brought the idea for a community center to the HOPE Board of Directors more than three years ago.
Board President Robert Owens said the board turned down the first set of blueprints for the building.
“Frankly, it was pretty boring,” Owens said, sitting on the center’s lush lawn Thursday.
While designs were tweaked, “it really started to get legs,” Owens said. Community interest in the venture grew, until it was clear there was enough support to pull off a project of such caliber, he said.
The 4,500 square-foot facility has a quiet space, workout room, common area and full kitchen. Perhaps even more significantly, everyone and anyone can utilize the space.
Haas said it has already been designated as a local emergency shelter.
“It is not just a HOPE building,” Haas said. “It is a community building.”
There are three components that must be met before a project like the community center will be approved by the board, Owens said. The community has to want it, HOPE has to be able to afford it and it must be accessible to the entire region, he said.
Haas said there is already a list lined up of local organizations and groups looking to rent the center’s space including the Independent Learning Center, Autism Speaks, the LeeShore Women’s Center and the Stone Soup Group. He also predicts volunteer presenters such as local artists, cooks, and trainers will teach classes at the center.
This means more access to activities for clients of HOPE, and inclusion of the public into the HOPE community, Haas said.
There have been many times Haas and his daughter were only able to attend a community event for a few hours, or simply chose to stay home because necessary services would not be available.
Now, she will be able to spend multiple days each week with friends and participating in activities she enjoys, he said.
“And she is keeping her dignity in place while she is doing it,” Haas said.
Susie Stafford, mother of HOPE’s client Elijah Stafford, has also been a member of the resource team since its origins.
She said her son will now have access to cooking classes, better equipment and will be able to see his friends more often because of a bathroom with an adult changing table.
Catie Wheeler, director for Hope’s Kenai office, was only one of many who expressed excitement for the new bathroom with an adult changing table. For many clients who experience incontinence, it is essential to have access to such a facility during an outing, she said.
The center would not have been completed without essential partnerships and investments from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, ConocoPhillips Alaska and the Rasmuson Foundation among many others, said HOPE’s Deputy Director of Public Relations Kris Jez.
During lunchtime presentations Thursday it was announced The Rasmuson Foundation promised another $300,000 in start up money, Jez said. The only hitch is that the community still needs to match $40,000 in funding for the center, she said.
HOPE is projected to grow by 34 percent within the next four years, and serves more than 150 individuals on the Kenai Peninsula, according to a HOPE media release.
Homer resident Peggy Brown and her client, Eddie Escalera, stayed for hotdogs and painting at the center Thursday. Escalera is the only HOPE client in Homer.
“He (Escalera) likes to attend events like this,” Brown said. “He has no facilities like this in Homer.”
Owens said it is the unique dedication of the parents on the Kenai Peninsula that brought the center to fruition. Haas said it was his only option to give time to promoting HOPE resources.
With the new community center Haas and his daughter will be able to go out and not receive scrutiny from occasional members of the public.
“I believe in this agency. They have literally saved my daughters life with their support,” Haas said. “If I lived to be 100 I couldn’t repay back everything they have done for us.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org