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Remodeled space to serve as neighborhood gathering place at 17805 S.E. Stark Street.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The Rockwood Center will house two Head Start preschool classrooms and whatever classes, events and activities the community needs

Rockwood United Methodist Church is a beehive of activity these days with construction workers swarming the building, remodeling, reinforcing and transforming rooms into the new Rockwood Center.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - LaVerne Lewis, a former Multnomah County corrections deputy, is the project manager and treasurer for the Rockwood Center. She's looking forward to working with the community and SnowCap Community Charities, which sits behind the new community center. The new community space being developed by a nonprofit arm of Gresham United Methodist Church is billed as a place where "spirituality and the arts, education and opportunity, culture and community come together."

Gresham United Methodist Church senior minister Rev. Steven Lewis said, "our mission is helping to transform lives."

The Rockwood Center will infuse a sense of spirituality into its programs, which can only be helped by the fact that the beautiful stained-glass windows and rich wood of the former church sanctuary will be retained in the "grand room" of the Rockwood Center. Despite the secular nature of most of the potential programming, "this can be a spiritual place where the love of God will be present," he said.

Also present will be two Head Start classrooms, a recording studio, an art studio and two large rooms for classes, meetings and performances.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Pastor Adam Jenkins, LaVerne Lewis and Rev. Steven Lewis stand in the sanctuary of the former church that is being transformed into Rockwood Center.

Gresham is happy to see another option for community building. "We are always excited to hear about community groups coming together to provide services and positive options for children and families across our entire community," said Elizabeth Coffey, communications manager for the city.

Even though it is still under construction, The Rockwood Center at 17805 S.E. Stark St. is already rockin'. This summer three sessions of free music classes are being offered to kids in grades one through five. "There's a plethora of opportunities with music and children," Rev. Lewis said.

There also are multiple ways to work with the community.

"I'm very interested in micro business," Rev. Lewis said. That might include guidance in starting a business with small amounts of capital.

That would be familiar territory for volunteer LaVerne Lewis, the project manager and treasurer for the Rockwood Center. LaVerne Lewis, who is no relation to Rev. Lewis, is a licensed tax consultant and teaches accounting and criminal justice at Mt. Hood Community College. She also is a former Multnomah County corrections deputy.

She'll be working on programming for the new space with Adam Jenkins, the assistant minister at Gresham UMC. They are considering classes and activities for English learners. Business English might be a help to minority businesspeople, for example, Lewis said.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The old church's fellowship hall will be tranformed into the 150 seat 'living room' for community actitivies at the new Rockwood Center.

A neighborhood immigrant group is forming and has already met in the space. A Samoan pentecostal church is going to use the grand room for revival meetings.

But the programming is still being worked out. "I don't know exactly what that is going to look like," said Jenkins. "It will come when the community makes this place their own."

Rev. Lewis said "this will not be white folks coming in here and telling the community 'This is what you need.'"

Construction on Rockwood Center started in June, with a grand opening planned for September. Lewis said the group tried to be mindful of the environmental impact in the building remodel. "Someone came and took the pews in May and someone else took the pipe organ. We tried to repurpose as much as as possible," he said.

SnowCap Community Charities, which operates a large food pantry, is located behind the Rockwood Center. "That's fortuitous, excellent and awesome," LaVerne Lewis said.

SnowCap has used the building before, and those involved with the Rockwood Center see synergies with the close proximity. "We'll partner with them for their Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners," she said.

Lewis said the Rockwood Center will work on "how can we impact the community for long-term change?" The group sees the center as Christianity practiced in the real world. Said Rev. Lewis: "It's love your neighbor as yourself. We want show that we care for this community as much as for other parts of Gresham. We're living out the Gospel in the 21st century."

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The Rockwood Center is under construction and plans a grand opening in September.

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