A new community center is coming to the Chief Gary Park neighborhood of Spokane

SPOKANE, Wash. – A new community center is coming to the Chief Gary Park neighborhood in Spokane.

“We want to give people what they deserve, not what they expect,” said Deida Hakala, executive director of North East Youth and Family Services (NEYFS). “We call it the Spokane Creativity Project because we want it to be a space that inspires creativity in so many different ways.”

NEYFS’s goal is three-fold: to increase access to learning opportunities, improve food security, and strengthen the community in the Chief Gary Park neighborhood with its resource center located at the intersection of Mission Ave. and Magnolia St.

“The neighborhood hasn’t received a lot of funding from local governments or local agencies, so we saw an opportunity to really do something wonderful for the community,” said Elaina Sicilia, deputy director of NEYFS.

Data provided by the organizers shows that nearly 48% of households in the neighborhood live below the poverty line, 42% of households receive food stamps and 84% of children are entitled to free meals in schools. Organizers also say the neighborhood is a “food desert,” with very few grocery stores or markets in the area.

Other data shows that 56% of the region’s residents are unemployed or not in the labor force. One in seven people don’t have a high school diploma, and 75% of people don’t get a graduate degree.

Sicilia said she chose the location – which is across from Stevens Elementary School – for a purpose.

“Children who have no activities [after school] end up getting in trouble because they have nothing to do, so we really hope it’s a place where they can just hang out, get resources, or get some tutoring help while they wait for their parents to receive house, and really make it a warm and inviting space for the community,” said Sicilia.

Community outreach has played a big role in determining what people want to see in the Spokane Creativity Project, such as cooking classes and professional development.

“We added things that we didn’t think we needed,” Sicilia said. “We realized we needed to add a therapist on site, or someone who is available for those kids who just need someone to talk to.”

“It’s not our job to step in and ‘save’ a community,” Halaka added. “It’s our job to step in and empower and uplift, and continue to sustain the pride they already have. We can’t provide what they need without their input. We can’t find the resources that best suit that community without their membership.

Hakala added that his plan includes a commercial-size kitchen, an outdoor garden, restaurant partnerships and meal kits for families, something not seen in traditional pantries.

“If you just provide a family with fresh herbs, fresh produce and all the necessities to cook, you are sending them home and that can be overwhelming,” Hakala said. “We want to be able to send people home with recipes, knowledge, confidence and enthusiasm around nutrition and make it simpler, less overwhelming, more doable and more accessible.”

They also plan to create a media and technology resource center, as well as an outdoor field with a play area for children and plenty of open spaces to hold events such as movie nights or field days.

NEYFS is aiming for a mid-December launch date for the Spokane Creativity Project, but progress already made in converting the abandoned gas station building into a community resource center is a “pinch” moment for organizers.

“It’s unreal every time I walk in,” Hakala said. “I don’t know how else to describe it.”

NEYFS is a non-profit organization and is seeking various devices, building materials and funds to make the Spokane Creativity Project a success. If you would like to help or donate, call (509) 218-6416 or visit their website by clicking here.

FOX28 Spokane©

Jill E. Washington