Jul. 12—ANDERSON — By the summer of 2022, Anderson First Church of the Nazarene is planning to open a $1.3 million community center.
The church congregation gathered Sunday on the corner of 23rd and Meridian streets to break ground for the center.
Members shared in ice cream, balloon animals and the opportunity for pictures in a photo booth during the groundbreaking ceremony.
The first phase is a 6,500-square-foot Community Room to be constructed along 23rd Street and attached to the church.
The second phase will be a building addition that will include
a playscape, gathering room, classrooms, clothing closet, kitchen, laundry, coffee shop and restrooms.
Ashley Dagostino, the wife of lead pastor, Joe, said the church has been located on this corner since 1917.
She said the 46016 ZIP code is known for poverty, crime and hopelessness, but the church is seeking to bring hope to the community.
"Three years ago the spirit of God gave us a vision," Dagostino said. "That new vision came into focus for the church to become embedded with our neighbors.
"We want to bring healthy life to the community surrounding the church."
Jan Knotts, a member of the church for almost six decades, said the community center is special because it's completely different than what the chuch has ever had.
"This is reaching the community that we always meant to reach, but we never quite got over the hump," Knotts said. "But when Dr. Joe (Dagostino) came, he had this vision that was different for us, but all of a sudden, it just caught on."
Knotts said she was not surprised that the church is tackling a project of this size.
"We've taken on so many projects that were totally out of our reach," she said. "All of a sudden, it has happened."
Joe Dagostino, lead pastor, said Sunday was an exciting day for the church.
He came to Anderson almost three years ago and, when interviewing with the church board, decided to get more involved in the community.
"They did a lot of things in different places," Dagostino said. "But they wanted to be more specific in the neighborhood.
"That propelled us into making a place where people feel safe and can be successful," he said. "I'm very surprised with what we have raised in six months."
The church in the past 18 months has opened a tire park, two community gardens and a "gathering place" for the local community.
"The neighborhood is appreciative and excited to see new life in the neighborhood," Dagostino said. "Neighbors have come to help us."
Clayton Whitson, president of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce, said the project is more than a community center.
"This is a symbol of the revitalization of the downtown area of Anderson," he said. "Some of the things this particular church is doing is taking over vacant lots to revitalize.
"They're moving the needle in Madison County for health and wellness," Whitson said. "We encourage leadership by example, and First Church is doing that. We hope other civic organizations take a leadership role in revitalizing their community."
Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.