Downtown center welcomes donors, ‘neighbors’

August 18, 2011 by

Sister Marcia Allen, left, oversees an impromptu tea party Thursday evening while Sister Pat McLennon, left, chats with the girls' mom during the Neighbor to Neighbor Open House.

Memories and amazement were both in steady supply as Neighbor to Neighbor hosted two open houses this week to show off its newly expanded space.

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Longtime Concordians remembered earlier uses for the 1888 two-story building at 103 E. Sixth St.: An appliance and TV store, a Sears catalog center, a bar, an upstairs roller-skating rink in the years around World War II and an auto dealership sometime before that.

Amazement came from the way in which the Sisters of St. Joseph have brought the 123-year-old building back to life as a vibrant center for women in downtown Concordia.

The three women who operate the center — Sisters Pat McLennon, Jean Befort and Ramona Medina — invited donors to a special reception Wednesday evening, and then opened the doors Thursday evening for the entire community. With assistance from other sisters who live in Concordia, they gave tours and provided information about Neighbor to Neighbor and the programs offered there.

On Wednesday evening, Father Barry Brinkman of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church gave a blessing in each of the special rooms on the second floor.

The Sisters of St. Joseph purchased the two-story brick building in April 2009, and facilities manager Greg Gallagher knew that the project would require extensive renovation — particularly on the second floor, which had not been used for anything other than storage for decades.

Through the spring and summer of 2009, the entire building was cleaned out and the lath and plaster removed from the walls. The only other work upstairs was to remove the boards that had filled the three large windows facing Sixth Street and replace them with new vinyl windows.

Then the work upstairs stopped.

Downstairs, on the main floor, Nazareth Motherhouse employees completely refinished the space, adding new plumbing, lighting, a heating and cooling system, interior walls, a complete kitchen, bathroom facilities, a laundry room, flooring and all the finishings.

When Neighbor to Neighbor opened in May 2010, its 2,000 square feet seemed to offer ample space for the women and their young children who would be welcomed there by the three sisters and a growing cadre of volunteers.

There is never any cost to the women taking part; all the programs are offered free, with funding coming from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, a handful of grants and individual donations.

“This is about one neighbor helping another,” as Sister Ramona explains it.

And the neighbors throughout Cloud County and beyond have responded — the center is often packed throughout the day.

So Gallagher and the sisters last fall began working on a plan to bring the 2,057 square feet of space upstairs back to life. Work began in December 2010, with Motherhouse employees again doing the bulk of the work. Employees working on the project include Gene Gangstrom, Curtis Mansfield, Jim Helton, T.J. Hayne, Brad Snyder, Bob Kearn and Renn Allsman.

At the same time, the workers created a “half story,” converting some of the space allowed by the original 20-foot ceilings into a large walk-in storage space between the two floors. This has given the center room to store arts and craft supplies and other donations.

The open and airy second floor now includes an art room, a private counseling or small meeting room, two more bathrooms and a kitchenette that looks out over a large and well-stocked play area for children.

A special fund-raising drive to pay for the second-floor expansion began at the same time as the renovation work. Donors could support the project with a gift of $24.33 per foot — for however many feet they wanted — to help cover the project’s costs. So far, donations have covered about 1,750 square feet, with about 300 left to go.

If you’d like to make a donation to help with the renovation cost or to support Neighbor to Neighbor, you may give a gift through a secure server using Pay Pal. Just click the DONATE button below.


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