After serving Garden Citians for six years and becoming a go-to resource hub for local refugees, LiveWell Finney County Health Coalition’s Neighborhood Learning Center will close permanently Sunday because of a lack of sustainable funding, transferring the bulk of its services to Catholic Charities.
For years, the center, hosted in apartment DD2 at Garden Spot Rentals on Mary Street, has offered free basic English classes, citizenship prep, health screenings, computer tutorials, healthy eating seminars and guest programs from local entities within walking distance of residential areas with high refugee and immigrant populations, program coordinator Birgit Lemke told The Telegram earlier this year. More than 150 clients representing over a dozen native languages and countries used the center each month.
“I am thankful that we had the opportunity to serve here for six years because we did make a difference in many lives,” Lemke said.
The majority of those services, and the employment of five part-time community health workers that help facilitate them, is made possible with a grant that expires Sunday with no opportunity for renewal, LiveWell executive director Callie Dyer told The Telegram earlier this year. And despite weeks of searching for other funding options from local public and private entities, no sustainable alternatives were found.
Dyer said LiveWell currently has no plans to reopen the center down the road, largely because of limited access to funding. Instead, the coalition has collaborated with Catholic Charities in Garden City to continue some of the center’s work after it is gone, Lemke said.
While the center’s health screenings will not be handed off to another agency, Lemke said she expects she will be able to continue most of the center’s classes at Catholic Charities, where she will begin working Monday. The nonprofit will begin offering beginner English classes immediately, and, based on demand, add some of the center’s other services like a wellness lecture series, breastfeeding support group, nutrition classes and life skills seminars from local entities over the coming weeks, she said.
This is not the first time Catholic Charities has taken on new services for refugees. When Garden City’s International Rescue Committee office closed last summer, the agency began offering several of the office’s duties regarding immigration, including medical assistance and resettlement.
For the past several days, Lemke and other learning center staff members have been handing out flyers to clients listing the new location in five different languages.
“I’m very thankful for that, just to be able to say we’re not just closing the doors but we can say the services are continuing,” Lemke said.
Regardless, the solution does come with drawbacks, Lemke said. The new location at 705 Ballinger St. is less accessible to residents with limited or no transportation and, unlike the learning center, does not offer child care during the classes. Some of the center’s clients may not be able to make the trek regularly or at all. The loss of the center also means the loss of a social gathering place for its clients, especially women who are often stuck at home, Lemke said.
The learning center’s closure ceases a point of easy access to community resources for people that need them. But, Dyer said, that does not mean the resources are gone.
Genesis Family Health and the Finney County Health Department, also located off West Mary Street, will continue to provide affordable health services, she said. The library will continue a weekly meeting for locals practicing English and the Garden City Career Connection Academy at Garden City Community College still offers pathways to English proficiency and citizenship, as well as technical certifications. Classes through the Extension Office and Family Crisis Services are still available through those agencies, Dyer said.
“We have always used our partners ... The services are still available. They’re just not going to be at apartment DD2,” Dyer said, referring to the center’s apartment number.
For more information about Catholic Charities’ local services, call 620-272-0010 or visit the organization’s new location at 705 Ballinger St.
Contact Amber Friend at email@example.com.