Kitsap United Way launches community center campaign

United Way of Kitsap County has launched a campaign that would transform its 19,000-square-foot building in Bremerton into a nonprofit community center.

Located at 647 Fourth St., the planned center would serve as a hub for area nonprofits, civic groups, businesses and the public, centralizing United Way programs and services in the heart of downtown Bremerton.

The project is estimated at $3.67 million, with $1.2 million coming from "government funding" and $1.72 million from "financing," leaving an extra $750,000 on the shoulders of United Way, according to initial numbers.

"We don't want people to think we're trying to raise 3.67 million," said Patricia Hennessy, United Way director of resource development.

Most of the financing has been secured through donations and grants, Hennessy said, and United Way has raised about 25 percent of the $750,000.

"We've made some traction," she said.

Fund-raising for the project will remain separate from United Way's annual campaign, which supports charitable organizations, Hennessy said.

"The capital campaign is completely, totally and unequivocally separate from the annual campaign," she explained. "We want to keep the pot separate, we're really drawing the line here."

The plan appears to have the backing of local leaders, including Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman and Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown, who both spoke at a campaign kickoff July 17.

Bozeman made no pitch for the campaign, but praised United Way for its involvement in Bremerton and the entire county, calling the evening a "celebration."

"This is the umbrella agency that helps those who can't help themselves," Bozeman said. "I would not want to move to a community that didn't support United Way."

The envisioned community center adds yet another project to the revitalization efforts of downtown Bremerton.

"We are part of that revitalization," United Way Executive Director David Foote said. "We want to be a part of what's going on downtown (in Bremerton)."

The multipurpose community center would house a volunteer center, offer local nonprofits affordable rental rates and create central meeting spaces for area agencies, among others.

"Part of the goal here is to put United Way in the center of the community," Foote said.

The Red Cross, Kiwanis, DSHS and others (Navy League) have used the building for training, meetings and events, Foote said, and Lutheran Community Services Northwest recently moved into the building. Catholic Community Services also is considering moving some programs into the building.

"The concept of bringing the community together has already come to fruition," he said. "The concept is already in the works, it's being used."

The center also would house United Way's Cooperative Collection resource library, offering nonprofits and other grant-seekers access to thousands of written and electronic publications.

United Way has partnered with Kitsap Regional Library (KRL) on Cooperative Collections, which is administered by the Foundation Center, to make the library accessible to civic groups, volunteers and nonprofit organizations in the west sound.

"They've been really good partners, they deserve to be recognized," Foote said of KRL.

The statewide 211 telephone system would eventually move its headquarters to the community center, too, Foote said.

Tacoma and Everett are home to United Way community centers, illustrating a trend statewide and beyond.

"This is a trend with United Way's across the country," Foote said. "Many United Way's are developing, or have developed, community centers."

And while the campaign remains in the early stages, Foote and Hennessy are confident that the Board's visions will become reality.

"This is something we truly believe in," Hennessy said.

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