West End Center
With thanks to Susan Kessler
The West End Center for Youth was established in 1979 as a safe haven for neighborhood children in the West End of Roanoke City. At that time the West End neighborhood just across Memorial Bridge and only two miles from Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church, was a place of poverty, crime and drugs. West End Presbyterian, West End Methodist, and the Mountain View Neighborhood Alliance formed a coalition to build a quality program for these youth. Raleigh Court Presbyterian has been a helping partner from the beginning and continues to support the Center in a variety of ways. Several of RCPC’s members served on the original board and later boards as well, and as volunteer tutors and handymen. RCPC member Marion Raney served as the volunteer treasurer/bookkeeper for many years.
1990 – 2000
In September 1992 Kay Hale, a member of RCPC and then Executive Director of the center, visited the Board of Deacons to give a report on the status of the Center. Four goals were outlined:
Address nutritional needs
Provide recreational opportunities
Develop social skills
Fill gaps in education
Kay Hale made a plea for tutors to help students with homework and for help with renovations of the building. The Board of Deacons expressed a desire to partner with the Center and this began a period of committed involvement. In early 1993 the Board of Deacons decided to focus a majority of their efforts on this one organization. The congregation was informed and encouraged to support the Center through volunteering and donating goods. In the fall of 1993, a new playground was built by RCPC members and Kay Hale provided a list of needs and projects to be addressed over the next several years. Dewey Houck with others, built storage cabinets and shelving, laid flooring and repaired the roof. Supplies for every area of the Center were donated. These donations helped the Center to save funds for staffing and programing. The Deacons coordinated congregational and community help for office supplies, sports equipment, school supplies, computers, and benches. During these years Raleigh Court Presbyterian continued to generously include the Center in benevolence giving. In 1995 the Deacon’s voted to give a $400 bonus from the creation of a pictorial church directory to the Center and helped the Center obtain a $6,500 grant from the Presbytery. In 1996 RCPC sponsored the summer program to give these children a safe place for the summer and a school supply drive was held.
In 1997 Raleigh Court learned that the Center’s biggest need was still funding. There were 110 children enrolled and 80 on the waitlist. The needs were extensive. The Church continued to be a major financial supporter of the Center. In September 1998, the Church purchased computers and a printer. As this decade of intense involvement came to a close, Raleigh Court Board of Deacons continued to keep West End Center as one of only three organizations upon which to focus most of their efforts and continued to provide tutors and donated supplies.
2000 – 2010
During this decade Raleigh Court continued to support the Center financially and with the Socks and Underwear Project at Christmas; however, the Deacons struggled to engage the congregation to volunteer as tutors and to help in other areas. In 2003 Jeremy Peters, a staff member of West End Center, visited the Board of Deacons to discuss the tutoring program, youth filled Easter Eggs for an egg hunt for the children and a paint day was held with 11 members completing three large rooms. In 2005 youth participated in a workday cleaning and painting. Bottled 100% Juice, school supplies and the Socks and Underwear Project were the main avenues of congregational support for several years. In 2008, a time of dire financial straits for the center, $15,000 was included in the church budget for West End Center, the first Fashion Show Fundraiser was held along with a Corporate Olympics Fundraiser which was widely supported by our congregation. In 2009 West End Center celebrated its 30th Anniversary and after 25 years of service, Kay Hale stepped down as the Executive Director.
2010 – 2020
Joy Parrish becomes the new Executive Director of West End Center. In June 2010 she visited the Board of Deacons to discuss new projects. The Board of Deacons identified West End Center as an Essential Ministry. During this Decade, volunteer tutors increased to over 20 church members serving as homework tutors, Spanish tutors, math tutors and Literacy Program volunteers. Our church continued to generously support school supplies drives, the Alternative Giving Tree and the Socks and Underwear Christmas Project. The Spring Fashion Show Fundraiser grew in popularity and took on the name “Spring Bling: Fashion Show and Silent Auction.” Members of the Church consistently filled a table or two at this event. The West End Center Friends Mission Group was formed in 2016 and each year organized both the school supplies drive and the Socks and Underwear Project, filled tables for Spring Bling and provided large themed baskets for the auction, and served as tutors for homework and volunteers for work days to help paint or clean.
In 2015 The Endowment Board and Session generously granted the West End Center with funds to pay for a second eighteen-passenger mini-bus which provided a way for the Center to take children into the community for new experiences. As the 40th Anniversary of the Center approached in 2019, the center took on a project to renovate their kitchen and children’s bathrooms. The Endowment Board and Session again generously granted the Center $35,000 for the renovation of the children’s bathrooms.
For forty years Raleigh Court Presbyterian and West End Center have had a special relationship. Joy Parrish, director of the center from 2010 – 2020, commented on the relationship: “It’s been a special and important relationship including financial, volunteers and moral support.” These children, just across the Memorial Bridge, have blessed the lives of those who volunteered and the lives of these children have been changed forever by the generosity of our congregation.