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Another Heart in Kingsley

by Miriam | June 22, 2021

From their repurposed EMS building downtown, The Rock of Kingsley strengthens their community by providing programming for people of all ages. What started as an after-school youth center has blossomed into expanded youth and senior programming, a community event space, a community shelter, and a resource hub, touching the lives of hundreds of kids and adults who visit the center. The Rock has been awarded a $50,000 Assets for Thriving Communities grant to support Phase 1 of their Building Preservation and Expansion Project, contributing to the funds needed to restore the exterior of their building. Construction is beginning now and is expected to be completed in Fall 2021. 

 

 

Diane Walton, Executive Director of The Rock, and her board members took a walk around the village of Kingsley, searching for a building with a few criteria in mind. Within walking distance of the local schools, no crossing the highway or busy streets, space for kids to do their schoolwork, socialize, and relax. Nestled between bustling East Main Street and the rail line that runs through town, a defunct EMS building owned by Paradise Township, Mayfield Township, and the Village of Kingsley met those criteria and offered the opportunity to grow. "The mayor said, 'We need to sell this to [The Rock], or we need to tear it down,'" recalls Walton. So, in 2008, the group purchased the building with a $10,000 deposit towards the $150,000 total purchase price and had one year to come up with the rest of the money. "There were so many renovations to get the building up to code, it took another year to get our doors open," said Walton, noting the additional work it would take to transform the space into a welcoming community center.

 

Diane's vision for the Rock began in 2005. She'd worked in the public school system for 18 years as a librarian and in foodservice, work that gave her an inside look into the need within in the community, stating, "I knew exactly how many kids received free or reduced lunch." She says finances often prevent students from participating in extracurricular activities like band or sports and that those kids needed a place to go. She searched the internet to gather ideas from other youth and community centers, "but you can't just copy someone else's model," she says. "You have to shape your programs to fit the needs of the community."

 

After opening their doors in 2010, The Rock began providing a safe place for kids to go after school, offering programs to educate kids on mental health issues, bullying, and the dangers of drug abuse. Early on, the Board of Directors conducted a SWOT analysis to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing their community center. Other opportunities to use the building to serve the community were identified during that process, including the use as a senior center. As a result, Sharon Neumann was brought on the team to develop senior programming "and not only does that programming thrive, but there is intergenerational interaction. Our seniors become volunteers at the youth center, and they interact and bond with the kids," says Neumann.

 

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"Our mission is really one of LOVE - Lifting lives, Opening hearts, Valuing and Empowering Community through Love," says Neumann. The Rock is a place where anyone can come and experience no judgment. "Everyone is accepted for who they are and where they are," she says. Being open since 2010 means that hundreds of kids and adults have passed through the welcoming, accepting atmosphere of The Rock. "We've been in many of these kids' lives since they were in the sixth grade," Walton says, remembering the story of a young girl who came out of her shell and has blossomed, going on to graduate college. Now she wants to give back to her community and help lift the lives of young people the way The Rock did for her. "Not all kids choose to come to The Rock, but kids who do are more likely to stand up for someone who needs them or welcome the new kid by saying, 'You can come sit with me.' And our staff and volunteers are approached by kids who will tell them about their concerns. We're another heart, eyes, ears in the community", says Walton.

 

The Rock is deeply rooted in the community they serve. Walton says open communication between the schools, K-Town Youth Care health clinic, local churches, and The Rock creates a wrap-around support network for area youth. And each of the organizations that utilize The Rock as a meeting space, including Alcoholics Anonymous, the Lions Club, the American Legion, and others, have youth programs that students can participate in. The Rock is also a Red Cross shelter and provides clothing to people in need and victims of house fires and other disasters. 

 

As the exterior of their concrete block building begins to crumble, the staff and board look towards a multimillion-dollar campaign to preserve and expand the community center. "Given the growth of Kingsley as a community, there is a demand for more programming and community gathering space. It's become clear to us over the years that we're going to run out of space," says Neumann. A Rotary Charities Seed Grant provided the funding necessary to do a feasibility study on the capacity of the community to support this kind of capital campaign. With that knowledge, they are confident that the community will once again step up to help the organization that has helped so many. "Getting started on Phase 1 of this project gives us the confidence that we will be able to grow along with the community and meet their needs," says Neumann. 

 

Construction on the exterior of the building is getting underway now and is expected to be completed "by the time snow flies," says Walton with a chuckle, knowing that this is Northern Michigan. Phase 2 of the fundraising and construction plan includes expanding the building to accommodate the growing need for community gathering space. 

 

Rotary Charities is proud to support The Rock of Kingsley and the services and programming they provide to the community with a $50,000 Assets for Thriving Communities grant. Learn more and support The Rock by visiting therockofkingsley.com