From soldiers to plowshares

After Rep. Ford donates an office building to nonprofit to turn into community center, military veterans show up to make that dream a reality

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By Michael Romain

Editor

For years, the building at 5714 W. Division St., has been just another derelict sight that some Austin parents and children pass on their way to Channing's Childcare, the facility right across the street.

Now, the building – once owned by Rep. La Shawn K. Ford and, at various points in the past, home to the legislator's business, For Desired Real Estate; space Ford leased out to a medical center; and the site of a large fire – is a source of hope.

Rep. Ford recently donated the building mortgage-free to Ruth Kimble's Austin Childcare Providers' Network. Kimble, who is also the owner of Channing's, is hoping to transform the space into a comprehensive community center servicing the needs of some of Austin's most vulnerable residents – children, trauma victims and veterans.

"She's a proven leader and a person who knows how to bring people together in the Austin community," Ford said of Kimble, who is also an early childhood advisor to the legislator.

"I couldn't find a better person to carry out the mission of putting a community center in that location to meet the needs of the community," said Ford. He noted that the building's previous tenants, the medical center, couldn't maintain the terms of its lease. 

On Saturday, Jan. 31, Kimble hosted a small lunch at Channing's for volunteers who had just finished the first phase of the building's transformation from a property in distress into something of an emotional and spiritual hub.

Kimble envisions office space, a military and childcare resource center, a food program and a trauma center for families.

"The whole community has needs," Kimble said, adding that her desire to help fill them is what makes her and Ford such like minds.

"He knows what our vision and mission is," she said of the legislator. "That's bringing families and communities together."

Presently, Channing's services upwards of 70 children between the ages of 2 and 12 from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Kimble's nonprofit, the Austin Childcare Providers' Network, trains other childcare providers in areas such as CPR, nonprofit financing and computer literacy.

It was through the Austin Early Childhood Collaborative (AECC) that Kimble serendipitously figured out the vital next piece of her dream puzzle—how to transform the building into the hub of positive activity she envisions for little to no cost.

Jacques-René Hébert is a military program manager with Childserv, a child and family services organization, who is also involved with the Austin Early Childhood Collaborative.

"The program managers [at the AECC] referred me to Jacques, who reaches out to the community," Kimble said. "We met maybe a year ago. In the meantime, he was looking for a project to involved his military volunteers in and so [the program managers] connected us together, Jacques came over, looked at the project and said, 'Bingo!'"

Hébert, a member of the Marine Corps, is also involved extensively with The Mission Continues, an organization that "redeploys" veterans in their communities "so that their legacy will be one of action and service," according to the organization's website.

"We like really big projects," said Hébert, who noted that The Mission Continues is about leveraging veterans "as strategic assets to the community" and deploying them on "pro-social, impactful community projects," such as the one in Austin.

The conversion from abandoned office space to a community center will take between 9 and 12 months, Kimble suspects.

"We like to get stuff done," said another Marine, Lucas Waldron, much more bluntly.

Kimble's project is a big challenge, but the approximately 30 volunteers (comprising veterans, community members and about ten employees from Home Depot, which will donate all of the materials and equipment throughout the project) appeared to have backed up Waldron's boast.

They began work at around 9 a.m. that Saturday. Less than four hours later, the team had nearly gutted the entire first-floor office space—tearing down enough walls for about eight rooms and dumping mounds of office furniture.

Hébert said the work will be completed in phases. Next month, a team of volunteers will gather for another several hours to complete the second of about three cleanup phases before the space is completely bare and ready for the phase of renovations.

"When you leave the military, there's a loss of structure," said Hébert. "You lose that feeling that you're really part of something greater than yourself. And one of the greatest things that The Mission Continues does is to help give that purpose back to veterans—by using them not overseas, but in our own communities that need help." 

Contact:
Email: michael@austinweeklynews.com Twitter: AustinWeeklyChi

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