Houston church breaks ground on new community center

Date Posted: 8/25/2022


by Maleri McHam

St. Luke’s UMC, Gethsemane is part of an “aspirational project” in the Gulfton area of Houston – the creation of a new community center that will help serve all the people in their diverse community.
 
Ann Culver, St. Luke’s UMC Director of Advancement, said that in a revitalization study done about five years ago, it was shown that in Gulfton 80 countries of origin are represented; 88% of the population speaks a language other than english; and the area is five times denser than the population in any other Houston neighborhood. It was also shown that Gulfton has the lowest unemployment rate in Houston, however, 48% of the community lives below the poverty line with only 2% receiving public assistance, Culver said.
 
“They all work, hardly anybody is on public assistance, but then they don't make enough money, so they're the working poor,” she said. “And that's why we step in, and we think we can help calibrate some of those inequities.”
 
St. Luke’s UMC has been around since 1975 and a part of the Gulfton community for about 15 years now, Culver said. Around the mid 2000s St. Luke’s UMC looked to permanently install itself in the community and merged with a smaller church to create St. Luke’s UMC, Gethsemane.
 
“That became a way for us to truly live in, be a part of, and be a neighbor of the Gulfton community,” Culver said. “We do not do this in the name of charity, or sweeping in and being do gooders. We are neighbors -- we all live in that community together.”
 
When the two UMCs merged, it not only included the church building but also land associated with it. There was enough land that recently St. Luke’s UMC Gethsemane has been able to donate it towards a new community center, Culver said.
 
We could have done lots of things there, but we chose for this to be a place that will help the residents in our community, she said.
 
The Gulfton area is crowded with apartment complexes and little greenspace, Culver said. Something like a community center will give the residents, especially kids, a safe space to enjoy and grow with more elbow room.
 
A ground-breaking ceremony was held for the $23.5 million center at the start of August. It is planned to be a 50,000 square foot two story building that can be a focal point designed around the needs in the community.
 
The building will be home to the operations and meeting spaces of St. Luke’s UMC Gethsemane youth programs. There will be hangout spaces, computers, internet access and more for kids to utilize. Culver added that as a community center it will also be open to meetings, Boy Scouts, and other community events.
 
Rendering of Community Center

While the community center will be a great benefit to the area, it will also free up space in the church facilities to expand other programs such as the early learning program Small Steps, the Christian Community Service Center which provides people with food, and Mercy Closet. All these things together are “taking care of your neighbors and that is what we're taught to do in the Bible, and it's all played out on a realistic, doable, combined set of programs,” Culver said.
 
St. Luke’s UMC has also partnered with four nonprofits that will be stationed in the center that are already at work in the community.
 
Legacy Community Health:
Legacy Community Health will be opening a clinic in the community center for uninsured or under-insured
individuals. Culver said the organization has several clinics throughout Houston, but at this one in particular, a focus will be put on teens and young adults. 
 
ReVision Houston:
Breaking the cycle of isolation among disconnected, at-risk youth is the major goal of ReVision Houston and alot of this is accomplished through soccer. The community center is adjacent to a full-sized outdoor soccer field where ReVision has been running its program for years, Culver said. Soccer is one thing that brings the diverse community of Gulfton together.
 
PX Project:
PX Project was developed after seeing a need for a workforce training program in the area. Not all kids will go to college, no matter where they are from, so this program prepares them for a job through life skills training, financial education, options of jobs out there and more.
The program is in a culinary setting and will be utilizing the centers commercial kitchen, café and classrooms.
 
Connect Community:
This nonprofit, which focuses on the Gulfton and Sharpstown area, will have its headquarters based out of the center.  The organization aims to connect people in the community with resources such as where to set up a bank account, finding a doctor, childcare and much more.