As college seniors prepare for graduation, many are uncertain about what their future will hold. That was not the case for Alicia Pence when she graduated from Monmouth College last year.
Pence is the co-founder and AmeriCorps Vista coordinator for the Family Outreach Community Center in Stronghurst.
During her junior year, Pence was working at her local church in Stronghurst when she noticed that many of the children in the congregation were wearing clothing that either didn’t fit them or was torn. She thought to herself, “Someone should do something about this.”
Pence, a West Central High School graduate from Biggsville, wound up being that “someone.” She began meeting with people around the area to get their ideas, starting with representatives of the Warren County United Way and Monmouth’s First Street Armoury.
The grand opening of the Family Outreach Community Center took place last June. While providing nutrition programs that include a food pantry and a community garden, the center also offers parenting and family assistance programs, along with employment and career development programs.
According to its mission statement, the center “exists to improve the quality of life for residents of Henderson County by providing assistance for low-income families, implementing programs targeted towards strengthening the community, and assisting other existing outreach programs in the country.”
The Family Outreach Community Center doesn’t turn down any families because, as Pence says, “Jesus didn’t check people’s income before he gave to them, so we are just going to give.”
In order to provide the Family Outreach Community Center with the materials needed, Pence said, “We receive all of our support from individuals, businesses, churches and organizations,” all within Henderson County. She explained that the organization has made a stand not to take any government funds and is therefore relying solely on community support.
Currently, Pence is the only paid staff member at the Family Outreach Community Center, but she receives a great amount of help from more than 50 community volunteers. They help with projects such as sorting and washing clothes, helping with the food donations or simply sweeping the floors.
“We also have a few church groups in the community that come regularly to serve in our garden and in the food pantry,” said Pence. “Without our volunteers, we would not be able to keep going.”
The center is open five or six hours each weekday, and Pence is there every day. She’s in charge of such day-to-day operations as “packing Operation Backpack food bags, working with clients on résumés and assisting them in finding jobs, giving boxes of food from the food pantry, applying for non-government grants, planning fundraisers and speaking to groups in the community.”
She said she really enjoys the flexibility of the job, but it can also prove to be a struggle because she regularly works around clock.
“Clients and community members have my cell phone number, and I often receive calls in the evenings and on weekends, which can cut into my family time,” said Pence, who gave birth to her first child last year. “I have learned to adjust to this way of life, though, and knowing that the Family Outreach Community Center is making a huge difference in our community makes it so worth it.”
Pence’s eventual goal is to have a new structure built for the center. She would also love to pass on the reins one day and reduce her role to being on the board of directors.