By LINDA M. LINONIS
Printed on literature about United Methodist Community Center are the words “teach ... develop ... empower.” Its wide-ranging programs do just that for participants and confirm a description of the center as an “oasis of hope.”
Juanita Pasley has been with the center for 31 years and “worked in all the programs.” She will mark her fourth year as executive director in July.
Suggestions in a 2009 strategic plan, funded by the Wean Foundation, were implemented successfully, Pasley said. In July 2009, the center moved to 138 E. Boardman St. and diversified funding sources and services.
The United Methodist Church began the Pearl Street Mission in 1922 as an outreach on the East Side. Decades ago, the area around its building at 334 N. Pearl St. was a “hub of activity,” she said. The mission was renamed in the 1950s.
“The center was known for recreation,” Pasley said. But staff saw children couldn’t read or understand instructions and plays for games.
That realization led to establishing Family Readiness Centers in all city schools and Early College. Now in its 15th year, centers are staffed by employees and school teams who tackle multiple issues including academics, behavior and social.
“We look at what we can measure and how we can ease some needs ... like food, clothing .. and we provide referrals to other agencies,” Pasley said.
The newest program, established last summer, is Veterans Ready Workforce Program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. Pasley said the center developed this effort because the staff saw homeless veterans in its monthly food distribution.
“After they’ve served, they sometimes return to various issues here at home ... foreclosure and eviction,” Pasley said. “We connect them to the benefits and help move them through the system without the frustrations.”
The program also involves community groups and veterans-focused organizations and places veterans in training programs to prepare for employment. Staff includes a job coach and three case managers. Pasley said the center expects to serve 106 veterans in Mahoning and Trumbull counties between July 2012 to June of this year.
“The vets are so appreciative,” Pasley said. “It’s a joy to serve them.”
The new Senior Health and Wellness Program targets seniors 65 and older who are residents of Metropolitan Housing Authority properties and International Towers. The program, funded by United Way of Youngstown and Mahoning Valley, evaluates needs and offers activities such as a health fair, book club, chair aerobics, nutrition education and delivery of fresh produce.
Physical Activity That Heals (PATH) combines education and exercise. The goal is to increase physical activity in youth to adults. Karate for children through adults is underwritten by the city; line dancing, Zumba and chair aerobics are funded through Humility of Mary Health Partners’ Stepping Out program. Sessions are “very well attended,” said Jonetta Bonner, operations manager who oversees all programs.
The current Zumba class is led by Valerie Gordon, an independent contractor hired by Humility of Mary. It attracts 76 “registered faithful,” Bonner said. “It’s a cardio fitness workout,” Gordon said.
Bonner said numbers mattered the first year to build up attendance. This year homes in on results, such as losing pounds and getting normal blood-pressure readings. “This is a solid hour of exercise,” Bonner said, adding participants do routines at their own pace.
Gordon said the Zumba routine burns about 1,000 calories. “I encourage people to know their limitations,” she said.
Participant Lisa Lawrence said she heard about the center’s exercise class. “It has paid off ... I have a lot of energy and took off a few pounds.”