- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - While Melissa Young takes notes on the geometry of slopes, her 2-year-old son, Nathaniel, is learning, too. He’s honing his climbing skills in a classroom for infants and toddlers down the hall at The Beacon.

On this recent day, Young and two classmates participate in a distance learning program, with information projected onto a whiteboard in front of them. Four parents are enrolled in the adult education program so far this year. That’s down a bit from last year, but program director Greg Long says he is hoping to attract more participants.

Young and her son are a part of the South Bend Community School Corp.’s Family Literacy Program that relocated to The Beacon, a community center housed in the former Beacon Bowl. The Family Literacy Program has been at The Beacon for two years, but Long, along with the staff and students came into the 2015-16 school year with a new sense of excitement.

Their exhilaration stems from the program’s move into newly renovated portion of building that includes separate space for children and their parents. The renovations, which cost about $500,000, also include meeting rooms, a multi-purpose room that’s uses include the Sunday worship services for Riverside Church and the South Bend Police Athletic League’s boxing program.

Jennie Gorski, teacher in the Family Literacy program, said last year it was housed in one room separated by a partition. The parents spent the first part of each session interacting with and teaching their children. At the end of that time, moms went to their adult education classes while their children went to early learner classes with their teachers in a shared space that had served as the lounge when the building was still a bowling alley.



“You could hear the children play while we were working,” Gorski recalled. “Some days it was wonderful and some days it would (be) great if we can have some peace and quiet.”

Young agreed that the renovations have made a difference for the adults working to earn their high school equivalency. “The environment is better for our kids,” Young said. “Last year they could hear us and see us and we could see them through window.”

The Beacon is located on Lincoln Way West, just east of the South Bend International Airport, and had been the site of Beacon Bowl from 1955 until it closed in 2007.

“It all started when Riverside Church was given the building by a donor (in 2011), but (the church) didn’t want to own a building,” the center’s director, Jacob Titus, said. He said the church created The Beacon as a separate nonprofit in hopes of developing a facility that could be used as shared meeting space for groups located on the west side of South Bend. The nonprofit received donations from the church, individual donations, as well as foundation support to complete the renovations that have been done thus far, according to Titus.

“We could have had another church building, but we asked what does the community need?” the Rev. Kevin Mitschelen, minister at Riverside, said. “They said that on this particular part of town that it would be great to have a community center.”

Titus agreed, “the common thread was that there are organizations doing good work on the west side, but there is a lack of space for them, and they can’t always afford to own their own building.”

In addition to the Family Literacy Program, The Beacon has established partnerships with:

. The South Bend Police Athletic League boxing club. The boxing club was previously located at Grace Community Baptist Church and the Newman Center, according to Capt. Darryl Boykins, who organized the club. The club is opened to adults and children 7 years old and older, and Boykins said that the goal - like that of the summer tennis program he operates at Washington High School - is to encourage parents to interact with children, as well as to foster good relations between members of the community and police.

. The South Bend Roller Girls. The roller derby team practices in the portion of the building that has yet to be renovated, according to Titus.

. Hope Ministries, which will store furniture that will be given to clients who move into apartments and houses throughout the community.

. A Little Taste of Peace - an event that is a part of the Martin Luther King Day observances in which participants eat desserts and discuss issues of peace and social justice - is expected to move to The Beacon in January 2016, Titus said.

Projects still need to be done on the renovated section, including the purchase of a new floor for the basketball court and paving the parking lot. Undertaking the projects will not be a speedy process because of the decision to forego bank financing, Titus said, a conscious move to rely strictly on donations and grants. But Titus believes the pay-as-you go funding will ensure the facility will remain a space that will be shared and used by a multitude of west side organizations.

Rachel Mendez, a volunteer at the center, agrees. “That’s part of the beauty of doing all of this with cash,” she says. “The only downside is that it’s taking a little longer, but we don’t have a huge loan or mortgage, and that allows us to help other organizations achieve their visions instead of chasing dollars.”

Now that the second phase of the renovation is largely done, efforts to reach out to potential partners on the west side will likely grow in intensity.

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Source: South Bend Tribune, https://bit.ly/1G35WjT

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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