Jubilee Center offers help to community

Jubilee REACH Center looks like a community meeting space. Ask those who use it and you’ll find it’s much more than that.

Maria Alejandra Flores Cardenas does homework during a kids after school program at Jubilee Reach Center on Wednesday

Maria Alejandra Flores Cardenas does homework during a kids after school program at Jubilee Reach Center on Wednesday

Program provides outreach to diverse Bellevue neighborhood

Jubilee REACH Center looks like a community meeting space. Ask those who use it and you’ll find it’s much more than that.

The building is a little kid’s fantasy rec-room, a safe haven for teenagers after school, a cultural bridge for adults from diverse backgrounds and a resource center for community education and support.

Jubilee, now in its second year, has grown from an outreach project idea to a vital resource for many Bellevue children and families.

The effort began when members of Bellevue’s First Presbyterian Church wanted to find a way to celebrate the church’s 50th anniversary by stepping out into the community and serving locally. The church worked with the city to purchase the property that now houses the Jubilee REACH Center.

The center’s mission is centered around forming relationships, hearing the needs of the community, and then collaborating to build programs to meet those needs. Jubilee is volunteer-run, and opens its doors to people of all race, sex, age, religion and economic status.

The center offers an expansive list of programs including Before School and After School Enrichment, ESL classes, StoryTime, Computer Lab, Gardening & Cooking classes, Youth Theater and Arts, Play and Learn and Community Care. The building is located in the Lake Hills area, one of the most diverse and under-served neighborhoods in Bellevue.

Lake Hills Elementary School reports 32 languages spoken by the student body. Sixty percent of students at the school come from low-income families and qualify for free or reduced lunch. Many of the parents face long work hours and the stress of a language barrier. The staff and volunteers at Jubilee listened to the needs and addressed the problems to offer accessible resources and realistic solutions.

The Center offers English Language Classes, both mornings and evenings, for adults of all ages. The classes are taught in sessions with four levels of ESL classes offered, including Talk Time. The ESL teachers go through extensive training to learn to provide personal instruction and guidance in speaking, reading and writing English.

The ESL students also have access to technology through the computer lab. Parents with pre-schoolers are able to take advantage of StoryTime, a program that provides nurturing childcare during the ESL classes.

Another struggle that many of the parents in the diverse community face is the strenuous work situation that often creates an imbalance at home. After observing the need, a before school program was quickly put in place.

“When you sit with one of these kids and meet their parents, you realize how hard they are working,” explained Brent Christie, executive director of Jubilee. “These parents are leaving their kids all day because they have to get to jobs to sustain their families. So at 6 or 7 in the morning these kids were at the steps of the school. The school does what they can, they do incredible things over there, but these kids needed a safe place to go.”

The center now offers a free service that allows low-income parents a place to drop off their child prior to going to work. Lake Hills Elementary works closely with the center to pin-point the children who would benefit from the program most.

Run primarily by adult volunteers, the before school program is application-based and emphasizes education and fun through arts and crafts, board games, musical instruments, reading and homework assistance. The children also are treated to a light breakfast from Lu’s Cafe, named after volunteer Luz Gallego who cooks for the kids every morning prior to going to her full-time job. After a morning of fun and games, the children are walked to school by the volunteers.

According to Christie, Jubilee not only transforms the lives of those being served but also of those serving.

“We say it’s not the number of heads enrolled but the hearts transformed,” Christie explained about the growing number of children who walk through the doors each day. “Our goal is to stay within an area and then multiply out. We started out last year with only 20 kids and now we have 53 enrolled. It’s all about loving them in the morning and seeing the stories of lives changed.”

The center also has an after school program for middle school and high schoolers to have a place to go to get homework assistance, computer lab access and exposure to music and art. A full-scale music recording studio was donated for the kids to use and a spacious art studio allows children to develop their creativity.

Although the program appeared to be a success, volunteers began to notice many of the older students weren’t attending because they had to stay home to take care of their younger siblings. To meet the need, the after school program now welcomes kindegardeners through high schoolers.

“It’s neat to see how the high school kids have softened since bringing their younger siblings along,” Vicky Joslin said, a past volunteer and current staff member. “It’s amazing to witness their innate respect for the little ones.”

Once a week, members of the diverse community give back to Jubilee by cooking for the weekly International Luncheon. Each Thursday, a group takes over the kitchen and creates an authentic cuisine from their home country. The lunch attracts a crowd of 40 to 60 people who join together to enjoy the food, culture and company of others.

“Korean women talk to Japanese women and Mexican women hold Korean babies,” said Mardi Taylor, Jubilee’s program director. “It’s a place where people from different ethnicities get along and come together, where otherwise, their paths may never have crossed.”

Lindsay Larin can be reached at llarin@reporternewspapers.com or 425-453-4602.

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