Wallace Neighborhood Center cleanup

Staff from Youth and Family Link, Kelso School District, and JH Kelly on the Day of Caring in September cleaned up around the house set to be the Link Wallace Neighborhood Center in South Kelso. 

Thanks to a late Longview woman’s generosity, kids in South Kelso will have a new location for after-school activities, health and wellness clinics and other programs to boost their well-being.

Youth and Family Link has purchased a house in the Wallace Elementary School area and is working with Longview contractor JH Kelly to renovate it into a neighborhood center.

Link is paying for the work largely with a $250,000 bequest from the late Kathryn Karlen “Kay” Creel, a longtime Longview resident who left $750,000 in her will to Link, the Longview Public Library Foundation and Community Home Health and Hospice. Link is combining the bequest with a $25,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Southwest Washington to pay for the Wallace project.

“There are a lot of families with needs and a lot of services, but it’s hard for families to access those,” said Mike Haas, member of the Link board, explaining the decision to open the Wallace center. “We’re trying to wrap around these families that have needs by being in the neighborhood.”

Link offers free programs to Cowlitz County residents, including after-school programs, mentoring, child wellness programs and drug prevention. It’s also home to a community gymnasium at its main building at 907 Douglas St. in Longview.

The Link Wallace Neighborhood Center is slated to open next spring. Corie Dow-Kramer, Link executive director, said the house is on a double lot at 1107 South Fourth Ave., so there is “space to work with” inside and outside.

Dow-Kramer said the South Kelso location will allow families who can’t make it to the organization’s Douglas Street building to participate in Link programs and activities. Link doesn’t have a specific plan for the neighborhood center, but Dow-Kramer said it will be available for families and community members to use. It could also be a central location for other service providers, such as clinics, to distribute information or host events, she said.

“We will make the space available for what the community tells us they need to happen there,” she said.

The house is less than a block away from Wallace Elementary School, where 87% of students are on free or reduced-price school lunch programs.

Link already runs after-school programs at Wallace, but Wallace Principal Ray Cattin said the center will increase what Link can do for the students’ other family members.

“Wallace has been the figurative and literal heart of South Kelso,” Cattin said. “With this so close, we’ll now have the perfect place with resources to help make connections for families.”

Dow-Kramer said Link also has South Kelso community health advocates that already work in the area that will use the new center.

The neighborhood center was a dream of former executive director Steve Watters, who saw a need for Link to be more embedded in neighborhoods, Haas said. The project got off the ground a year ago when Dow-Kramer took over as executive director, allowing Watters to focus on it, Haas said.

If the Wallace Neighborhood Center is successful, Haas said, Link may open similar centers in other areas.

The center plan has received a positive response from Wallace-area residents and the Kelso community, Dow-Kramer said.

“It’s really exciting,” she said. “Anytime we talk to anyone in the neighborhood, the excitement I see from them is a driving force to do this.”

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