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Old parish school eyed as outreach center

Plans are in the works to renovate the former St. Lawrence School into St. Lawrence Vineyard Ministries -- a neighborhood outreach center that will provide much-needed services to the hardscrabble community surrounding the East Side parish.

Census figures show that 21 percent of those who live within the census tract are impoverished, and the U.S. Postal Service notes that from 10 to 15 percent of addresses are vacant, according to Patricia Dyer, a pediatric nurse practitioner who runs the parish's on-site children's clinic.

Also, the census tract of the parish has been designated a medically underserved area by the National Health Service Corps, Dyer added.

An open house at the old school building planned for 5:30-7:30 p.m. Friday is designed for community residents to speak up about what services are needed and also lure doctors, nurses and social workers, and possible tenants for the outreach center.

"We could really use a social worker," Dyer said. There are all kinds of programs available, but the problem is so many people in the neighborhood have no telephones, no computers, or they don't know which programs are best for them. They hit a brick wall sometimes and don't know what to do. A social worker would help them navigate the system."

Vacant for five years, the three-story schoolhouse has several classrooms that could house programs and offices. The target is to have the first floor occupied by next summer, officials said.

Funding sources are being sought for the renovation project and programs. Also, neighbors and parishioners are being enlisted for volunteer services.

In July, church leaders launched a survey of the community, targeting block clubs, churches and residents, to find out what services would be supported. That survey is still being conducted.

"The No. 1 issue is job training for older teens and young adults," Dyer said.

Residents also requested a farmers' market because fresh fruit and vegetables are not available in the neighborhood. Residents also want a resale shop.

Currently, an after-school program is in the works for children to get help with homework, music lessons and possibly martial-arts classes.

"It's a great old building, and we're focused on saving buildings," Dyer said of the school. "And there are so many needs in the community and in the parish. It would be much better to rehab it."

Demolition would cost the church about $220,000, noted Deacon Paul Weisenberger. And if the church does not get funding for the outreach center, the parish will have to demolish the building -- a cost that would significantly impact parish resources and its projects.

The success of the outreach center will be evaluated by the number of community residents who participate in the programs and if the programs become self-sustaining, according to Dyer and Mary Weisenberger, a co-pastoral administrator at St. Lawrence.

Planners also hope the outreach center will complement other programs at the parish, which operates a food pantry that serves about 200 people a month, a children's clinic that provides low-cost or free services to about 300 children a year and an outreach assistance program.


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