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Sissonville community center fills a need

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Aldersgate United Methodist Church decided to build a multipurpose community center, officials there knew the residents of Sissonville needed it.

"For the Sissonville area, there's long been a need there," said Pat Taylor, who, along with wife Dena, led the church's fundraising efforts for the center. "We feel like we're filling that need with this building."

But what the church's parishioners didn't know was how soon and how much the center was needed.

Construction on the first two phases of the center's construction wrapped up in May. Late the next month, the center -- complete with its 100-kilowatt generator -- opened first as a cooling station, then as a temporary shelter for a community hard-hit by the June 29 derecho.

"Volunteers in the church and the community came in and we just made it happen," Taylor said.

During the nine days that it served as 24-hour emergency shelter, volunteers served more than 2,700 hot meals to the community, he said.

People charged cellphones and wheel chairs and used the center, which sits adjacent to the church, for hot showers and the electric for breathing treatments, Taylor said. The center also welcomed crated animals, much to the relief of their owners.

"Some folks just will not leave home without their pets, regardless of the temperatures or situation," Taylor said. Thirty-seven people stayed overnight, he said.

Emergency officials praised the organization at the shelter.

"First of all, they prepared it to be a shelter," said C.W. Sigmon, Kanawha County deputy emergency manager and fire coordinator. "They put a generator in. They knew someday it might be [a shelter] and they seemed to be ready for it."

Sigmon said the community center, with the support of the church, kept people there engaged and fed them good meals.

"People were comfortable, they had a place for pets," Sigmon said. "They did a great job."

The community center was the only emergency shelter operating in Sissonville during the power outage, Sigmon said.

Aldersgate UMC raised money for the $1.2 million building. Church officials are still holding fundraisers to pay off the debt and "still have a sizable amount due," Taylor said.

The next fundraiser is a turkey dinner scheduled for Nov. 3 at the community center.

The first phase of construction, a gymnasium, was completed last October. The second phase, with the kitchen and bathroom, was finished in May.

The third phase will include the second floor over the bathroom and kitchen area. The third phase will be done as funds allow.

In August, the community building became home to a branch of Kanawha Valley Senior Services, which brings in speakers and hosts activities at the site. The Putnam Aging Program serves meals to seniors at the community center as well.

Between 30 and 35 seniors come into the center for meals and activities each day, Taylor said. Before the center was built, meals were served at Sissonville High School.

Cleo Abbott, 89, of Sissonville, said it's nice that seniors have a place of their own away from the high school.

"The seniors meeting at the school when the kids are there is really not good because they have their play time and they're liable to run into you," she said. "[You] might be knocked down. So we'd been working on having it go somewhere and they built this."

The church uses the community center Sundays, but it also serves as a venue for youth activities, sports and concerts, Taylor said.

"While the multipurpose community center is being used, its potential uses are endless," Taylor said.

For more information about the Nov. 3 turkey dinner fundraiser, call 304-984-1164. Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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