Northeast Colombia is known for having higher crime rates, more residents in poverty, and limited access to social service agencies compared to the rest of the city.
Efforts for change are progressing, but there needs to be an anchor for those who live in this area, said Gary Thompson, CEO of Columbia Insurance Group, whose offices are located on Whitegate Drive. He is co-chair of the Beacon of Light Capital Campaign.
An anchor takes shape thanks to United Community Builderswho received the gift of a five-acre property at 1801 Towne Drive in 2018.
This location serves as the headquarters of the United Community Cathedral – UCB is the church’s non-profit social service agency – in what was the former Columbia Health Care Nursing Home.
UCB’s offices are located on North Providence Road and operations are split between the two sites. UCB programs generally take place at the Providence site.
At least half of the 1960s building on Towne Drive cannot be used and was still damaged in February 2021 due to water damage after a freeze. UCB must demolish the facility and build a new one.
On Friday, a major donation of $1 million from the Veterans United Foundation moved UCB closer to its fundraising campaign goal of $4 million.
The campaign began in December and had raised about $1.5 million before Friday’s donation, said Russell Freeman, Cathedral Apostle and chairman of the UCB board. UCB executive director Damian Dean expects another $500,000 to be raised soon via a grant application, bringing the campaign to more than $3 million.
Based on how efficiently the funds are being raised, a first groundbreaking for the new facility could take place by June, Dean said, noting that UCB is waiting for the $4 million to be raised to start building. .
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“United Community Builders has a proven track record of lifting our friends and neighbors downtown,” Thompson said. “This campaign will provide the basis to serve those in northeastern Colombia.”
The Beacon of Hope Capital campaign is also overseen by executives from Shelter Insurance; LBO Sports; Rogers, Ehrhardt, Weber and Howard Attorneys at Law; First State Community Bank; Central Bank of Boone County; Simon Oswald Architects; and coil building.
Create a local ministry
Setting up a community center and providing various services for adults and children is the impetus behind Freeman and all of UCB’s work. Almost 40 years in the making of UCB church and ministry.
Once the $4 million has been raised and the new community center built, all of UCB’s operations will move to the Towne Drive site in northeast Colombia.
Plan projections for the proposed 16,000 square foot facility include offices, a fellowship room, a community room, and a gymnasium with a stage, kitchen, computer lab, and daycare and preschool facilities.
There is space for the community center to grow in the second phase additions.
“The tenacity has been very strong in our ministry to make this happen,” Freeman said, adding that the cathedral never wanted to be just a church. “So we brought UCB online. The reach has been far greater than I could ever imagine.”
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UCB’s goal is to meet people where they are, not lecture them, Freeman said. About eight years ago, he asked Rance Austin of the cathedral to outline a community outreach ministry. Because UCB did not yet have the Towne Drive facility, these plans were shelved.
The blueprints were removed from the docket when the Towne Drive installation was given.
“Friendship and relationships are most important to me. We need to develop a friendship so that we can do what we do in our community,” Freeman said.
The Veterans United Foundation is delighted with the investment it has made in UCB, said Foundation Board Chairman Erik Morse.
Morse has known Dean for a while and last year they had lunch to catch up, he said.
The discussion they had “fitted well with the foundation board conversations and how he wanted to impact northeast Colombia, to help with upward economic mobility in the city,” Morse said. .
Morse hopes Friday’s $1 million donation will keep UCB’s momentum going and what it wants to do in the community now and for future generations, he added.
Provide resources to the community
UCB has a variety of youth and adult oriented programs.
The Club Kid Connect summer academy has been around for many years. UCB also offers professional training and financial management seminars, among others, Dean said.
Creating the community center at Towne Drive will allow UCB to consolidate what it already does in one location and then expand it, Freeman said.
The planned community center will also bring much-needed services to what is essentially a service wasteland, Dean said, noting that the nearest park is nearly 2 miles away. Having community resources nearby could help reduce crime. Last Tuesday, the region received 63 calls for service alone, Dean said.
The aim of the UCB center is to be an anchor of hope, he added.
“It will take a concerted effort from local government, the school district, social service agencies and the faith community to positively impact this area,” Dean said. “It’s a journey, a progression to be the bridge between those who need help and those who can.”
UCB’s work is done without politics or pomp, said Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones. The donation from the Veterans United Foundation on Friday put words into action, he added.
Freeman and Dean are “two selfless men who work to better the community one person at a time. Their presence in my life has helped me to better myself,” Jones said.
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He said that after a 2016 shooting in the area, there was a vigil on Sylvan Lane. There were concerns about further shootings due to the feuds occurring at the time and the bravado of young people, Jones said. So he called Freeman and Dean.
“They came in and were a calming presence for a lot of young kids. They walked around and talked to people. I learned a lot from that interaction and I try to model my interactions on theirs,” Jones said. .
Having the UCB Community Center in this area will be transformative, he added.
“It’s really about relationships for them. I learned from them and I think other people will learn from them,” Jones said. “The ability to deliver services through this center will be phenomenal.”