As its name suggest, The Center can become the center of the world for those who pass through the central Davenport community center's doors.
Neighbors, teenagers, seniors, immigrants, the disadvantaged and those who one staffer simply calls "our friends" arrive at the hulking building atop Brady Street hill. Inside, they seek advice, assistance, fellowship, a place to worship and even basic necessities for everyday life.
"We try to have programs that help a person holistically," said Pennie Kellenberger,the Center's founder and director. "So no matter what they need they can get help in one space — from clothing, education, housing to food."
Located in the former Montgomery Furniture & Carpets at 1411 Brady St., in the Hilltop Campus Village, the community center hearkens back to when Kellenberger went searching for a space to grow the skate ministry of St. John's United Methodist Church. The church, located across the street, was gifted the building by an anonymous donor and led the capital campaign to renovate the sprawling storefront and warehouse space.
"Then soon other churches, programs and ministries came to be supporters so we truly call ourselves a community building," she said.
The Center, which now is a separate nonprofit, is home to such efforts as the Food Pantry at the Center, Friendly Thrift Shop, Solid Rock Cafe, Sanctuary Church and House of Refuge.
But it since has become a headquarters for nonprofits and ministries such as QCAIR (Quad-Cities Alliance for Immigrants & Refugees), Fishers of Men, the Street Team Homeless Outreach, Quad-Cities Harm Reduction and QC United (an anti-bullying effort). Recently, it has added new educational opportunities from Eastern Iowa Community Colleges and soon will provide an additional location for Rock Island-based Youth Hope.
"This was the vision," Kellenberger said of the place "where churches, programs and people can come together to help our neighbors live life out together."
True to its roots, the Center remains home to the popular SkateChurch youth ministry, which draws 50 to 100 young people a week. In a large space outfitted with ramps and jumps, middle and high school teens have a safe, indoor environment to bring their skateboards or bicycles. Each session includes a gospel lesson, she said.
"People are always asking 'Who comes to the center?' Really, anybody," said Michael Gayman, a counselor with the Center's four-person Street Team, a homeless outreach program.
When asked what it does, the answer is simple: "Whatever people need. We remove barriers for folks and that looks different for everybody who comes in here," said Gayman, who has worked for the Center for six years.
The participants, who he calls "guests," will stop in sometimes daily or less often. Many form their own support groups among the other guests. "Today, we had a woman from the neighborhood whose dog just died and she needed to process that and didn't have any support," he said.
This day, 54-year-old James Edward has stopped in after having a job interview that he hopes will be his chance for getting back on his feet. Since moving from Florida back to his native Quad-Cities to be near his mother, who is in hospice, he has been unable to find work and has resorted to living in a tent.
The Center, he said, is his escape. "This place is amazing. You can come here and have a sense of thought. If you need clothing, they give you clothing. If you need food, they give you food. If you need to find a job, if you need spiritual guidance, if you are hungry and don't have a dime in your pocket (it all is here)."
The Center's staff have offered him everything from a cot to a warm blanket, laundry money and bus tokens to get around the city to look for a job. "All they ask you to do is volunteer,'' said Edward, who is a regular greeter at the front desk.
The Center has been a magnet for fellow faith-based organizations and ministries.
Pastor Derrick Johnson, pastor of House of Refuge, was looking for a new home to relocate his church from its west-end storefront when he met Kellenberger. Now his original congregation holds services in the Center's chapel and he has become the Center's in-house pastor.
"The Holy Spirit told me 'this is your church,'" Johnson said, taking a break from serving the lunchtime meal. "When people come here and leave here, they always are affected. They find peace and calm. We see if we can't meet their need. That's what we do here."
In the same space but at different times, Sanctuary Church gathers its congregation. The para-church Fishers of Men, also a nonprofit, has meetings and operations.
As part of its Kenyan ministry, Fishers of Men is teaching area youth the skills for making skateboards as well as the business skills behind running Bantu Boards. In a makeshift shop area, Kellenberger said the SkateChurch participants craft the homemade wooden skateboards. Any profits from the social entrepreneurship program are used to purchase mango trees to be planted in Kenya.
Center of resources
The Center also provides a stable home and office for the two-year-old Quad-Cities Harm Reduction, a nonprofit that promotes harm-reduction strategies including rescue kits and training for the use of the opioid overdose reversal drug Naloxone.
"Our mission is to save lives, but we had resistance in the community," recalled Kim Brown, who co-founded the group after her son, Andy Lamp, died from an accidental heroin overdose. "These folks welcomed me. This is a whole family up here."
Brown, the group's president and a registered nurse, said the organization's efforts to educate first-responders, drug users and the public on the use of naloxone, or Narcan, have led to 20 documented reversals since June.
"Harm reduction is more than naloxone and needles," she said, adding that many living in harm's way have other needs "just like everyday folks."
To meet some of those other needs, Brown can lead her clients to other resources at the Center.
For those who are food insecure, The Food Pantry at The Center is a collaborative effort by nine Quad-City faith communities, including nearby Sacred Heart Cathedral.
"It's a convenient spot for people who have multiple issues," said Dan Huber, the pantry's director and a deacon at Sacred Heart. "It's like a one-stop shopping with the thrift store, GED training, referrals for housing."
Serving all of central and east Davenport — from the river to Interstate 80, he said — the pantry has doubled in the past five years. Last month, it served 434 families or "shy of 1,600 people."
Eastern Iowa Community Colleges just introduced classes for students to earn their high school equivalency credential, or HiSET.
"We're thrilled at the Center to have it here, especially for the neighbors," said Lori Zahn, the Center's business administrator, who teaches the course.
"It can be challenging," said Zahn, who sees low- and middle-income residents trying to better themselves. "There are a lot of frustrated people going through a lot... We're welcoming for them."
Located in the heart of the Hilltop Campus Village, a Main Street Iowa district, the Center also stands as a shining example of neighborhood redevelopment, said Scott Tunnicliff, Hilltop's director.
Once the largest retail building in the neighborhood, he said it might have become a vacant storefront had it not been for the combined efforts of the Center and the neighborhood's "can-do attitude."
"We see it as a towering asset in the area," Tunnicliff said.
As a Main Street program, Hilltop's focus has been on commercial development. "But we all have an interest to make sure these neighborhoods are safe and desirable. And I think the Center goes a long way toward that," he said.
Kellenberger, a former school teacher, admits that as a business model The Center is quite "unique." "Our big goal was to create an organization that is sustainable and financially responsible," she said.
The ministries and tenants pay what they can. "Everyone who resides here contributes financially. We don't call it rent. It's according to what they can contribute and it works."
The Center's bills? "They get paid," she said. "Do we need money — that's my job."
"We're not a handout; we want people who come here to participate," Kellenberg said, pointing to neighbors who are cooking lunch in the Solid Rock Cafe. "We do it together."