Neighbor to Neighbor shows off doubled space

August 10, 2011 by

The new upstairs play area is well stocked with toys and games for the children who come to Neighbor to Neighbor each day.

The community is invited to an open house Thursday, Aug. 18, to show off a project that was only the haziest of dreams two and a half years ago.

Neighbor to Neighbor, the center for women in downtown Concordia, will offer tours and information from 5 to 7 p.m., to introduce the community to its newly expanded and renovated space at 103 E. Sixth St.

The center opened in May 2010 on the first floor of the 1888 building, and with the completion of the second-floor renovation now has double the space.

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

So in the spring and summer of 2009, when the first floor was cleaned out and the lath and plaster removed from the walls, that work was done on the second floor, too. 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 123-year-old structure, 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, its 2,000 square feet seemed to offer ample space for the women and their young children who would be welcomed there by Sisters Jean Befort, Pat McLennon and Ramona Medina, the Sisters of St. Joseph who conceived of the center and now staff it every day.

From Monday through Friday, the sisters and volunteers offer classes and services that range from one-on-one tutoring for GED exams and book studies to providing a place to do laundry or take showers and classes in sewing, baking, lacemaking and household budgeting. Individual counseling services are also available as needed, as is help in navigating the social services maze. And, for some moms, the center has become a place to go with their young children, to give the kids a chance to play and the women a chance to befriend other moms.

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, in much the same way as was done downstairs. 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.

The center remained open during the upstairs construction. The sounds of work on the second level sometimes competeed with conversation on the main floor, but not enough to deter women from continuing to come to Neighbor to Neighbor.

The open and airy second floor now includes an art room, a private counseling or small meeting room, two more bathrooms, lots of storage space 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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