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Presbyterian Community Center helps those in need

Presbyterian Community Center helps those in need

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At the intersection of 13th Street and Jamison Avenue in Southeast is an oasis of care, compassion and hope.

The Presbyterian Community Center is a balm for the weary who are trying to make ends meet.

It is a safe space for the young who are trying to finish school and live their dreams.

It is a place where everyone who enters is received with dignity and respect.

Walking through the center, it is easy to see the dedication of staff and volunteers to making a difference.

"We began as a mission to Southeast [Roanoke]," said Executive Director Karen McNally, who started as director in April 2005.

One of McNally's early efforts as director included bringing together longtime residents of Southeast Roanoke to discuss the neighborhood.

Through their discussions, she learned about the setbacks of the late 1950s, including the closing of the American Viscose plant. Along with the setbacks came a loss of jobs and an increase in poverty.

The Presbyterian Community Center was founded in 1967 with a mission to address basic human needs by "providing economic, educational and spiritual assistance to families in need," McNally said.

Inside the front door of the center, volunteer greeters welcome those seeking help. The center serves residents from Southeast, Northeast and Vinton.

Clients then meet with an interviewer who listens, determines the need and decides how the center can best help meet the need.

Brenda Wass, case manager and PCC staff member for 13 years, is well aware of the challenges people face.

"People come with financial needs like food and rent. They need to talk and I try to see if there is anything I can help with," Wass said.

Through emergency services, the center provides financial assistance to eligible families and individuals for necessities such as rent, utilities, mortgage and prescriptions.

Just down the hall from the interview cubicles is the center's Food Pantry.

Nancy Poore serves as the official shopper for the pantry, and a cadre of volunteers helps keep it stocked and organized.

The center runs on volunteer power, and Cheryl Poe coordinates volunteer efforts.

More than 400 volunteers serve in a variety of ways from greeting folks as they come in to working as tutors in the Pathways After-School program.

"We all help each other," Poe said with a smile.

McNally said the center plans to expand to make additional room for Pathways and other center programs.

"Pathways started in 1997 with a few kids," said Tom MacMichael, director of Family Programs. "We offered tutoring, then added a parenting component and literacy tutoring."

The PCC Pathways After-School Program now works with more than 50 elementary, middle and high school students.

With the help of dedicated staff members and volunteers, the program provides tutoring, homework assistance, a computer lab, field trips and other activities -- all designed to reduce the dropout rate and engage students and their families in the value of education for life.

The ultimate goal is to see kids go to college.

Through a United Way Venture Grant, the center has scholarship funds available for a two-year education at Virginia Western Community College.

"I want to be able to tell the kids ... if you stick with us and make an effort, you will be successful and you can go to college for two years," MacMichael said.

The Presbyterian Community Center is making a difference. And the difference lies in the lives of those touched by care, compassion and hope.

The Presbyterian Community Center is at 1228 Jamison Ave. S.E. Call 982-2911 or visit

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