The Rev. Jimmie James wants to give more than just a handout to children and adults in Kent who need help. He wants to give a hand up.
James, the pastor of Greater Things Ministries of Kent, is leading a drive to turn a vacant building along West Meeker Street into the Hope Community Center. The center initially will serve as a drop-in center for teens.
“The building has been sitting in Kent for years but I’m one who believes things can be raised from the dead,” James said during a presentation about the project to more than two dozen community leaders and residents Monday at Maggie’s on Meeker restaurant. “It’s an eyesore, but we can transform it into a community center.”
James serves as executive director of Holistic Opportunities for Personal Empowerment, also known as H.O.P.E., a nonprofit group that hopes to open the community center early next year at 1637 W. Meeker St., just east of the Day’s Inn hotel.
The 4,000-square-foot building became a regular target of graffiti over the last several years. The boarded-up building has been sitting empty since the 1990s when it served as a grocery store and gas station.
H.O.P.E. continues to work to find partners to help run education courses or other outreach programs at the center.
“There are a lot of young people we can have a positive influence on,” James said. “There are boys without fathers who need mentoring programs so we can give them an opportunity to not grow up in gangs or end up in prison, but that they graduate from high school.”
The group set a goal to raise $30,000 within the next couple of weeks to help get the building open by early next year. James, working with state Sen. Claudia Kauffman, D-Kent, helped line up a state grant of $135,000 to contribute to the project once the initial $30,000 is raised.
“We need to instill a sense of pride and dignity and goals for our youth and give them life skills. That’s why I offered my support,” Kauffman said.
Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke said James first approached her two years ago about his plans for the empty building on Meeker Street.
“We’re thrilled not only with the purchase of the building, but the plans for the building,” Cooke said. “We’re thrilled to have a program of service. We’ve got to take care of folks because that binds us as a community and makes us a better community.”
Kent Police Lt. Ken Thomas has worked with James to combat crime on the East Hill through the city’s Weed and Seed program. Thomas agreed with James that downtown Kent needs programs that a community center can offer.
“I believe the community will be safer and the quality of life will improve,” Thomas said of his support for the new center.
Greater Things Ministries bought the property on West Meeker Street two years ago and leases the building to H.O.P.E., a nonprofit group set up to operate the community center, James said.
“The ultimate goal is to have it open 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” James said.
“We’ll connect people with other services in the community, but we need to fill a gap and one of those is a drop-in center,” James said.
The city of Kent reached out to teens when it opened the Kent Parks Community Center last year at the Kent Phoenix Academy on the East Hill. Now James wants to expand the options for teens.
“The Phoenix Academy (community center) is doing a great job, but we need more,” James said. “We need one down in the valley.
For more information or to donate to the Hope Community Center, go to www.hopecenter-kent.org or call the Rev. Jimmie James at 253-653-0469.