By Tracie Jenkins
Since arriving on the scene in Southwest Houston, Bethel’s Family Church has been on a mission to breathe life into the surrounding community. At 14442 Fonmeadow Drive, stands their latest endeavor, the new 55,000-square-foot Bethel’s Place Community Empowerment Center. The stark white and cool blue structure shines, surrounded by apartment complexes and a depressed community in need of a major lift.
As the building’s name will tell you, every operation in this center gears toward empowering the community. From the non-profit organizations and 13,000-square-foot double gymnasium to the copy and print business center and commercial kitchen, this building promises to be a reckoning force in the southwest Houston area and beyond.
Rob Smith, executive director of Bethel’s Place, believes in the empowerment center’s potential.
“We aim to be that beacon of hope and empowerment,” says Smith, “A way forward beyond mediocrity and into excellence.”
Clark Booker, executive director of Heavenly Hands, agrees. “We want to be a force in this community to move people forward.”
Located in the empowerment center, Heavenly Hands provides basic needs to the community, including clothing, food, and counseling. Founded in 2003, Heavenly Hands services over 8,000 people a month. Partnered with the Houston Food Bank, Heavenly Hands also aids other food pantries in need and has never been out of food since its opening (a feat that many other food pantries cannot boast). Even so, this organization is about more than just feeding the hungry.
“We send them into [job searching] situations so that they can get better and not still be on our food pantry two years from now,” says Booker. “Some people come and volunteer here because they’re not working. The skills that they get here will allow them to go out there and get their own job.”
Along with Heavenly Hands, other organizations in the empowerment center share the goal of revitalization. Already making moves to bring a fresh glow to the area, a top-of-the-line dentistry establishment, Amazing Smiles, settles into its new location in the Bethel’s Place Community Empowerment Center.
Amazing Smiles has an 11 year history of making people smile, led by the inspiration of its owner Dr. Margaret Allen, cosmetic and general dentistry practitioner. Amazing Smiles moved into the community with relative ease, Allen calling the transition a “wonderful journey.” That journey comes with a mission to raise awareness of dental health.
Dr. Allen sites that bacteria and toxins in the oral cavity can cause high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and heart attack. For this reason, Allen and her staff are dedicated to reaching children in an effort to provide preventative dental care and help them live longer lives.
“Dental and medical service shouldn’t be a luxury,” says Allen. “Everyone should be entitled to it.”
Walter August, senior pastor of Bethel’s Family Church, agrees with Dr. Allen’s enthusiasm.
“I saw the dentists work [on mission] in Africa,” says August, “so I know the passion that they have. It’s not about money. It’s about putting those smiles in the community ’cause sometimes you don’t see many of those.”
August, who is a board member of several non-profits located within the center, oversaw the making of Bethel’s Place Community Empowerment Center from inception to reality. As envisioned, the Bethel’s Place model is a unique centerpiece that allows the educational component of the organization to enter the community in a meaningful way.
A partnership with Houston Community College makes GED classes available with the hope that graduates will integrate organically into the higher education system. A library, computer lab, job training and placement all aim to take the community to the next level.
“The joy of watching somebody who feels or thought that the educational piece had passed them,” says August, “and they celebrate getting a GED at [age] 40. That’s exciting to me. That motivates me to push it even greater.”
Partnering with so many entities to provide basic needs, education, economic aid, safety and fun, the empowerment center seems to offer everything a healthy community needs to succeed.
More than a place to play basketball and volleyball, the building is a cooling center in the summer where the elderly can come and play checkers, do arts and crafts, or learn line dancing.
The empowerment center even serves as headquarters for the highly successful Bethel’s Place Black Chamber of Commerce. Now over 175 members strong, the chamber holds firm its goal to revitalize the economic health of the community by aiding business savvy youth and adults.
Says August of the versatility of the empowerment center, “you look at those components and you wrap it around the spiritual elements that we can bring to this community we share, I do believe we’re dealing with the whole man: mind, body, and soul.”
Undetectable from the outside, but visible in the details, the powerful potential of the Bethel’s Place Community Empowerment Center becomes evident. This building serves as a safe haven where people can have their needs met and where successful organizations gather, seeking to serve the community.
Dr. Allen of Amazing Smiles finds here, a place to better service those who need the most help. “My vision,” says Allen, “was to come out here, put a state of the art dental office [in the community], and provide top quality dental treatment for everyone.”
“Being able to bring a first class dental operation to this community,” August adds, “It’s unheard of.”
Along with Amazing Smiles, Heavenly Hands already sees the fruits of their labors.
“When people come, at first, they want something. We’re able to put them inside of the economic process, so that they can do things for themselves,” says Booker. “We see the people coming back to Heavenly Hands donating and volunteering.”
Also, with its commercial kitchen, Bethel’s Place Community Empowerment Center will be able to service the adjacent Arrow Academy children with food during their school day. Alternately, during times of disaster, Bethel’s Place partners with Red Cross to provide shelter and hot meals for displaced victims.
“We’re not going nowhere,” August proclaims. “We’re here. And we’re here to serve.”
As Bethel’s Place enters a new phase with the empowerment center, Executive Director Smith marks this accomplishment as “a giant step forward for the Fondren/Southwest Houston community, as well as the entire Greater Houston area.” With so many programs making a difference at this location, he has reason to be hopeful.
Even though the empowerment center did not initially garner the support of some larger businesses and foundations in Houston, August counts this as a blessing.
“At the end of the day,” says August, “we can always say, ‘Look what God did. This is the building, the empowerment center, that God built.’”