During an update and check-in with the Garden City Commission at a monthly town hall Tuesday, the Cultural Relations Advisory Board’s Allie Medina asked the commission for direction, including whether the board should offer grant funding opportunities for organizations like the Neighborhood Learning Center or Ethnic Empowerment Network.

The Neighborhood Learning Center, a resource center in the Garden Spot Rentals apartments off Mary Street that has provided health screenings, basic English classes, citizenship prep, life skills and a wealth of other services for local refugees and immigrants for six years, will close at the end of June unless it secures new funding to cover the $128,000 to $130,000 it takes to operate per year.

The LiveWell Finney County Health Coalition, which funds the center, is currently looking for grants and other sources to save the center, said LiveWell executive director Callie Dyer, but Medina asked the commission what the city or board’s role could be in the center’s continuation.

“The Cultural Relations Board has looked at can we apply for those grant funds with the commission’s approval. Can that be an option? Or do we look at funding from the city to then potentially fund some of those other programs?” Medina asked.

The center is a “valuable asset” in the community and to the city and board, she said. The city has used the space as a focal point to distribute information to immigrant and refugee communities, including recent surveys to gather community input about the future of the Big Pool, she said.

Dyer later added that the center is also a distribution site for Garden City USD 457’s summer meal program, offers early childhood Learn and Plays from Russell Child Development Center and that the local Kansas State University Extension Center depends on the number of people it reaches at the center during partner programs and classes for some of its grant funding.

The center has reduced violence in its area of town by almost 40 percent in its six years and connected women in and around the complex to prenatal care they were not receiving or knew of beforehand. Garden City police Chief Michael Utz said officers have visited and used the center to build bridges with refugee communities.

“The services that are there, it’s a need in your community, our community. Could it look different? Yes. Are there areas of need throughout our community? Yes. … There are some challenges, but there are some things that I think we could also do better, so I’m willing to have those conversations,” Dyer said.

Commissioners agreed that the center was valuable to Garden City and suggested the center giving a more in-depth presentation of the program and its funding needs at a pre-meeting before one of the commission’s upcoming scheduled meetings.

Commissioners Roy Cessna and Troy Unruh said after the meeting they were not sure when exactly that would be or what actions were possible at this point in the budget process.

“It’s trying to figure out if that’s something we could work into our current budget … ” Cessna said. “It’s something we have to look at … We just have to see.”


Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.