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Church preaches unity

Opens new community center to mark 100 years

YOUNGSTOWN — A tangible community center in the city is vital for steering young people in positive directions, though perhaps its largest offering is intangible, a longtime religious leader says.

“We have to provide for our community, especially for our young people. It has to be something tangible to give them hope,” the Rev. Kenneth L. Simon, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church, said.

He was referring to the K.L. Simon Community Center, for which a soft opening, tour and news conference took place Friday afternoon at the church, 1507 Hillman St., on the South Side.

The occasion also kicked off a weekend of activities to celebrate the church’s 100-year anniversary.

The facility, which could fully open this summer or fall, likely will be used for a multitude of events and gatherings. They include wedding receptions, town hall meetings, conferences, activities and summer programs for youth, skills training for young people to prepare them for employment, services for senior citizens and a place for the Harambee dancers to rehearse, Simon said. He added that such a center is essential to steer young people from violence, drugs and crime, and give them alternatives to make positive choices.

Efforts to raise money for the project, which amounts to an estimated $310,000 so far, began with parishioners donating funds, an effort that quickly brought in about $50,000. An additional $100,000 in American Rescue Plan dollars, distributed through county commissioners, was donated, followed by a $100,000 match from the city, Simon said.

In addition, local businesspeople have contributed to the effort, said Simon, who started pastoring at New Bethel in 1996.

The center needs new audio / visual equipment and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, along with added tables and chairs and other equipment, he said.

Fundraising began about two years ago, and efforts are underway to achieve nonprofit status, Monica Vann, co-chairwoman of the refurbishing committee, said.

Calling the center “a beacon of hope,” Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony T. Traficanti praised Simon for the project that both of them said will lead to the community’s betterment.

The community center also aligns with New Bethel’s yearslong mission of being community-oriented, an idea that Simon’s father, the late Rev. and civil rights activist Lonnie K. Simon, espoused.

“The church has to do more to serve the community and impact where the needs are in the community,” Simon added.

Donations for the project are still being accepted. For more information or to make a contribution, call the church office at 330-747-2125 or email brendasj59@hotmail.com.

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