The ELCA Outreach Center has come a long way since its humble beginnings.
Operating out of Grace Lutheran Church from 1997 to 2014, the center originally began as an outreach to local children, expanding exponentially with programs such as GED preparation classes, Bible studies, summer camp for grade school children and free clothing.
After outgrowing the space at Grace, the 501(c)(3) organization moved into its own building at 6218 26th Ave. on Nov. 1, 2014.
Now the ELCA Outreach Center will celebrate its five-year anniversary with an open house and mortgage payoff celebration from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Nov. 4.
There will be a “Pop the Balloon Drop” at 5:45 p.m. in thanksgiving for those who helped make the payoff possible. The event is open to the public and attendees are invited to take a tour and meet staff and volunteers. New volunteers are also welcome.
Karl Erickson, executive director of the center, said the retirement of the debt is a testimony to God’s goodness and the faithfulness of the center’s many benefactors.
“We are affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. However, we do receive help with both volunteers and funding from several Catholic churches, non-denominational churches and other faith groups,” he said. “It is very refreshing to be able to pray with and for clients who are struggling in life. In fact, we begin each and every morning with a prayer to help us see Christ’s eyes in every face that comes in the door.”
In the past five years, the ELCA Outreach Center has seen consistent growth in service, with 125 more coming in each month. Last month, nearly 1,600 came through the door, the highest number in its history.
Some of the ways the center helps is through prescription assistance, the personal care program, legal advice, resume building, internet and newspaper access, work attire, Bible study, providing assistance with school supplies, a summer camp and more.
“The clothing is our busiest service. Just about every person who comes in visits our closet,” said Erickson. “(Guests) are able to pick out three tops and three bottoms each day. We take donations of all clothing items, shoes, socks, kitchen items such as plates and silverware, towels, sheets and blankets. We take donations of just about everything except furniture.”
The center’s current location has allowed staff to expand the clothing closet to five times the size it was at Grace Church.
Working with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the center added a garden, gazebo and outdoor prayer space. Additionally, they have partnered with Kenosha County and Kenosha County Gang Prevention for movie nights in the summer, explained Erickson.
“This is good for the neighborhood, too. Since moving five years ago, we have increased the number of partnerships. We partner with God’s Kitchen, which serves lunch each day we are open, to everyone,” he said. “We seem to be the first place people come to when they wake up, get out of jail, lose a loved one, get a job, move or get back into town. There is a fellowship and community here. We call it God’s Kingdom.”
Stretch its boundaries
Staff member Mary Zorn said it’s been a blessing to stretch the center’s boundaries. The summer program is off-site at Brass Elementary School, thanks to a partnership with the Kenosha Unified School District.
“We can give even more young people the opportunities to learn and play in a safe environment during the summer months. We have a garden space and much more storage space. We have dedicated space for our Adult Education classes and for child care for these classes,” she explained. “I see the ELCA Outreach Center as a giving center. Some of what we give, others would have thrown away. All of what we give comes from the endless supply of God’s love, giving away what we are freely given. We give knowledge and we give hope and hopefully share God’s love.”
The recent addition of a Quiet Room within the center offers a respite for prayer, meditation, reading or solitude. Assistant Director Danielle Nixon noticed that guests needed a quiet space, explained Zorn, so they turned it into a peaceful retreat.
“I know that we all have times where the noise of the world becomes overwhelming. This can be especially true for individuals living in crisis situations,” she said. “As we continue to research and explore new ways of providing for our community, we hope our larger community will join us in our ministry. We will step out prayerfully, in faith, into the future, knowing God will inspire our community to continue praying for and supporting our journey.”
The greatest need in the Kenosha area is not always tangible, explained Erickson. One of the key necessities for guests, especially those down on their luck and homeless, is that they are still human beings with feelings.
“They are people just like you and me. There are many people struggling with addiction and mental health issues who need help and do not know where to turn,” he explained. “We still have to love them like God loves us. It is not always easy, though. But with the staff and volunteers we have, we make sure that we do the best we can to love everyone who comes in the door.”
If you go
What: ELCA Outreach Center Open House and Mortgage Payoff Celebration
Where: 6218 26th Ave.
When: 5 to 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4. Light refreshments will be served.
For more information: https://elcaoutreachcenter.org/ or phone 262-652-5545