KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- After 61 years in the same location, Wesley House Community Center relocated last week to a place more than three times larger, with a plan to triple the number of children served.
The historic inner-city ministry moved less than a mile from Dameron Avenue to 1719 Reynolds Street, the previous home of Laura Cansler Boys & Girls Club. The 27,000-foot building was built in 1952 as Cansler School.
“We’re tripling this mission because we want kids in the inner city to have all the opportunities they deserve,” said Nathan Rowell, Wesley House board chair and member at Church Street United Methodist Church. “What sets Wesley House apart from other community centers is we’re Christian-based but also very academically based.”
Last year, Wesley House enrolled 55 children in the after-school program and 65 children in the summer program. This fall, they plan to accommodate 75 after-school children, increasing enrollment by 25 each semester until they reach 150, Rowell said.
“We have to raise money for the budget before we can take care of more kids,” he said.
About $230,000 has been raised for a $550,000 campaign to purchase the building and expand the ministry, Rowell said.
The Dameron Avenue location is owned by the United Methodist Women (UMW), which designates Wesley House as one of 100 National Mission Institutions. (Also included in the list is Bethlehem Center in Chattanooga, Tenn.)
“Through the years, the biggest group of supporters for Wesley House has been the United Methodist Women,” said Pat Bellengrath, board member and UMW president at Church Street United Methodist Church. “Money, food or time – whatever they have needed, the United Methodist Women have stepped up to get it for them.”
See photos of new building and volunteers on Facebook.
On Sept. 7 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., United Methodist Women from four districts (Knoxville, Maryville, Oak Ridge, Morristown) will host a barbecue dinner fundraiser at Wesley House to kick off a $50,000 campaign to help meet the $550,000 goal by June 2014, Bellengrath said.
United Methodists in these four districts and throughout Holston Conference are also challenged to pledge $30 monthly for one year to help meet the campaign goal, said the Rev. Nathan Malone, Knoxville District superintendent.
“That's one dollar each day to help make a difference in the lives of at-risk children,” Malone said.
“If people want to get involved, operational dollars are what we’re most concerned about,” said Tim Adams, director.
The annual budget has increased by about $200,000 within the last two years to $625,000, he said.
On Tuesday, Aug. 13, children will arrive for their first day of the after-school program at the new Reynolds Street building. They’ll benefit from having Beardsley Community Farm as next-door neighbors, where Wesley House kids have volunteered in years past. The center is also conveniently located next to Ed Cothren Community Pool.
“The amenities here are unbelievable,” Rowell said.
Church and school groups adopted rooms in the new location, providing furniture, supplies, and decorating: Church Street United Methodist Church, Cedar Bluff Baptist Church, and Webb School.
“I would love people to come see this [new location], especially if they saw the other building,” said Adams said.
Other churches assisting with volunteer time and donations include Knoxville District UMW, Trinity-Knoxville UMC, First Maryville UMC, Concord UMC, Bradbury UMC, Bearden UMC, Christ-Knoxville UMC, Middlebrook Pike UMC, and St. Paul-Fountain City UMC.
Churches of other denominations (Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Catholic, Greek Orthodox) have also aided the community center, Adams said.
The Reynolds Street location has 27,000 square feet of space, compared to 6,000 on Dameron Avenue. Wesley House will actually use 21,000 square feet, renting 6,000 feet to Learn & Play Child Care Center, established years ago on the site, Rowell said.
Enrollees in the after-school program are selected based on need from four main elementary schools: Beaumont, Lonsdale, Maynardville, and West View, according to Kelsey Vaughn, program director. Parents pay $17 per week per child, with a discount for families with multiple children.
Wesley House staff transports the children from school to the center, providing a snack and immediate focus on homework. Students with a C average or higher are eligible for the PACE program (performing arts and cultural enrichment), which offers dance, hip-hop, piano, guitar and other arts opportunities.
Wesley House was founded in 1907 by a group of Methodist women, beginning its ministry as a child-care center for mothers employed at Brookside Mills. The services offered quickly expanded to health, nutrition, homemaking, and recreation programs.
Wesley House also serves 25 adults through its senior program.
To find out more, visit WesleyHouse.com.
See also: "Pineapple rescue: Volunteers salvage fresh fruit for hungry kids" (The Call, 5-18-13)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.