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MLK Center receives $200,000 'Neighborhood Builder' grant


Newport Daily News Article, posted ​December 14, 2017

NEWPORT — The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center is deciding how to spend a $200,000 “Neighborhood Builder” grant from Bank of America.

This is flexible, unrestricted funding that staff leadership and the board of trustees will determine next year how to allocate, but Executive Director Marilyn Warren already has begun a wish list.

“I have a lot of hopes and dreams,” she said. “We need new databases and new technology like computers and servers to work more effectively.”

The grant also could provide seed money for a capital program, help expand a program or start a new program, she said.

     “We are starting a new three-year strategic plan right now,” Warren said. “How do we put together a plan for the best use of this funding? I’ll be talking to other people who have started new programs.”

For example, Warren and the team at the MLK Center are interested in workforce development programs and encouraging micro-enterprises.

Warren is excited by other aspects of the award, which include leadership development for the executive director and an “emerging leader” at the organization, who in this case is Heather Hole Strout, MLK Center’s assistant executive director.

The award brings with it an opportunity to connect to a network of organizations, which Warren and Strout have begun doing.

“The leadership program provides peer-to-peer connections,” Warren said.

The program calls for Strout to go to three cities to visit other successful nonprofit organizations and meet with their leaders.

“I believe there is one award a year in Rhode Island, and there has never been a Newport winner,” Warren said.

Bank of America has helped with the funding of MLK Center hunger services for years, which include the food pantry, cooked meals and home deliveries of food.

“You have to be invited to apply for this grant,” Warren said.

People in the community may not be aware of the full range of services provided by the MLK Center.

Take the large room in the center now designated as “Santa’s Workshop,” now stacked with thousands of toys, games, clothing, shoes and other gifts for children. They will be provided to 686 children this month.

The gifts are divided into segments representing different values and sizes.

“Each parent will be able to choose two small gifts, two medium gifts and one large gift,” Warren said. “It is important that the parents choose. They know what will appeal to their children.”

The center also will provide holiday baskets to 1,300 individuals later this month.

The MLK Center extends the principle of choice to other programs. In the large Food-to-Friends program, the client chooses the food he or she wants.

“We treat our clients with dignity and respect,” Warren said.

The food pantry is now the 13th largest in the state and serves more than 220,000 meals to 2,500 individuals, she said.

“The vast majority of our food pantry clients are the working poor — our neighbors who work low-wage jobs or are working two or three part-time jobs trying to make ends meet,” Warren said.

In the after-school program, the children receive a full meal when they arrive and then begin instructional programs and classes. The activities include violin lessons, theater and chorus classes, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs, art classes and field trips.

The commercial kitchen is well-used, including cooking classes for 12 people each week. Cooking classes for parents and children will begin soon.

The center staff includes a registered dietitian who works 20 hours a week to provide nutrition education and one-on-one nutrition counseling.

Since 2004, Bank of America has partnered with almost 1,000 nonprofits and helped almost 2,000 nonprofit leaders strengthen their leadership skills, according to the bank’s website. The bank has invested more than $220 million in communities through the program.

“The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center has been an integral part of the Rhode Island community for almost a century,” said Bill Hatfield, Rhode Island market president for Bank of America, in the award announcement. “By addressing critical community needs through the various programs offered, from hunger relief to educational support, the center has worked to improve the economic well-being for numerous residents throughout Newport County.”

Warren cited a Martin Luther King Jr. quote to express the center’s values:

“I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”