2006-07-28 / Community

Methodist Center Closes Chapter, Awaits Next

By Patricia Hannan

A brick wall pledges that inside the United Methodist Center, "You are in good hands."A brick wall pledges that inside the United Methodist Center, "You are in good hands."

The brightly colored outside wall welcoming clients promises, "You are in good hands," but for the staff inside a well-established non-profit organization, their future rests in murky waters.

Members of the United Methodist Center in Far Rockaway recently announced their determination to expand the ministry, even after being informed the landlord has a different plan.

The center learned of its fate at a regular board meeting when they were shown a blueprint and plan to demolish the long-standing center in order to build six three-family homes.

"We're being evicted, and we're very upset," Executive Director and Reverend Bernadette Logan told The Wave. Logan estimates that the Far Rockaway organization has helped over 50,000 people to date. "We've always leased and paying rent has never been a problem," Logan added.

Landlord Kenneth Luke told a different side of the story. "They are not being evicted. We had a meeting sometime in May and they were notified verbally and in a written statement from my lawyer. I gave them plenty of time to move and they agreed to be out by July 31," Luke told The Wave.

Luke said that he was willing to let the center rent two of the six homes, but they rejected his offer. Now, the growing operation needs a new location and is asking for help.

But it appears the mission will pack up and move after 30 years of serving the homeless, recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, the unemployed, underemployed, and low-income families of the Rockaway Peninsula.

Logan added, "We have friends come from outside of Rockaway as well, including Woodmere and Lawrence, plus volunteers and outreach missionaries from as far as North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Canada."

Serving an average of 100 people daily, the center hosts free lunch at 11 a.m., a pantry distributing food packages and a clothing bank. In addition, the center provides HIV-AIDS screening on its premises, referrals to emergency shelters, programs for the homeless, jobless, and mental clients. There is a worship center, Alcoholics Anonymous counseling, and even activities for the youth, including a Summer Camp and the "Youth In Action" missionary outreach program.

Prior to its inception, Reverend Janet Porcher had been helping the impoverished women of Far Rockaway when she realized that the community needed a women's intervention center as well as a crisis center for men. In 1982, Porcher and her team established a center that met the needs of the entire neighborhood, and moved to its current location at 1649 Smith Place in Far Rockaway.

"We're looking for some place to go, so if any offer is made, we'll take it," Logan said. Although the center will be homeless as of July 31, the 15-person staff remains hopeful in the face of uncertainty, knowing that when one door closes, another one opens. Flyers were posted on walls to announce the last day of services on Friday, July 28, but Logan says the organization is only in a transitional phase right now. "We're moving, not closing," she emphasized.

Porcher stressed that the center is "parting with Mr. Luke on very amicable terms" and Luke commented on his occupants, "They have been excellent tenants all these years."

The center's Board of Directors Chairman, Denis Stuart explained, "Mr. Luke is a businessman. He's just doing what people do today, building homes. Maybe it's time for us to start a new chapter; we'll find another home and do bigger and better things." Regarding his plans to develop the land and rent the homes, Luke confirmed, "It will bring life to the area."

As the center closes one chapter and awaits the next, Logan said she wanted to take the opportunity to thank all those who helped make the center's mission statement a reality. Porcher realized 30 years ago, "The need then - and is now - one for human dignity." Through her work, the efforts of Stuart and the board of directors, the support of other UMC locations affiliated with the center, and Logan's staff, the organization fulfilled its mission statement provided in its written profile, "To serve our brothers and sisters in need by carrying out the Gospel mandates, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and provide hospitality and the spiritual, social, and physical services which will foster self-confidence and pride in every human being."

For more information about the center or to get involved you can email Logan at Mbin1234@aol.com or rockawaymission1@yahoo.com

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