The Grace Center celebrates 10 years of living up to its name

·3 min read

Dec. 4—Gloucester's aptly named Grace Center, which hosts the city's homeless, disabled, isolated, at risk, and crisis traumatized, will host a virtual celebration of its 10th anniversary this Tuesday, Dec. 7.

Tuesday's free event, beginning at 7 p.m., will highlight the nonprofit organization's history, community impact, and work with inspiring messages from the founders, organizational leaders, volunteers, guests and current staff Stephen Voysey, Frank Freedman, and Dre Collins through historical video at https://lifebridgenorthshore.ejoinme.org/GraceCenterCelebrate10.

The day resource center, established Dec. 21, 2011, grew out of what had begun as a community meal programs shared by three city churches — St. John's Episcopal, Trinity Congregational, and Gloucester Unitarian-Universalist — and was founded by its clergy, the Rev. Tom Bentley, Anne Deneen, Alice Erickson, and the Rev. Ron Gariboldi of Gloucester's Catholic Holy Family Parish.

Driven almost entirely by volunteers and donations, its values of acceptance, hospitality, and opportunity lay the foundation for the development of multiple life and job skills programs which over the years have come to include support groups, job resource support, art and music therapy, bible study, creative writing and reading, gardening, knitting, money management, collaborations with Salem State University, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings and relapse support, volunteer opportunities and, last but not least, yoga.

"It was a trailblazer," says Kendel Davy, development assistant at Salem-based Lifebridge North Shore, which since 2018 has managed — and grown — The Grace Center's capabilities.

Homelessness in Massachusetts jumped by 14% in 2018, the year, says Davy, that The Grace Center collectively realized it could no longer run or best serve its community through volunteerism.

The Grace Center's then chair, Mary Jane McGlennon, connected with Lifebridge and joined its network of resources for the homeless. McGlennon, now vice president of the Lifebridge board, has kept the spirit of the center's early days, when, says Davy, "what The Grace Center had accomplished" through its dedicated army of volunteers was mighty impressive.

By then, thousands of "guests" had "cycled through" Gloucester's Grace Center and its programs. Its space at the Unitarian-Universalist Church, entered at 10 Church St., had become a warm and welcoming hub of activities and Christine Bobek, then program director, was the driving force and creative catalyst behind its growing many of those programs. In June 2018, Bobek was recognized with an award at the Gloucester-based Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative's Third Anniversary Celebration & Awards Ceremony at The Gloucester House, which — during the COVID-19 pandemic winter of 2020 — temporarily would become the center's home.

Bobek, who says she "funded her projects the old-fashioned way, on a shoestring," told the Times in 2015, "When you believe in someone, they'll rise to that belief, to those expectations. I've see it again and again. Also, creativity is an important part of recreating yourself, and that's really what our mission is about."

A 401K nonprofit entirely dependent on donations, The Grace Center seemed to have harnessed the power of grace itself to grow through its early years. Under the Lifebridge "umbrella," it gets valuable funding and a regional approach, offering shelter, as well as community meals, day drop-in centers, and supportive services across three locations in Beverly, Salem, and Gloucester.

"The creation of a day resource center has been an incredible addition to the Cape Ann community," says Lifebridge Executive Director Jason Etheridge. "This model has proven successful, resulting in Lifebridge opening a Grace Center in Salem as well. We are proud to celebrate 10 years ... and grateful to all those who have made it possible along the way."

To join/register for the virtual anniversary event on Dec. 7, visit https://lifebridgenorthshore.ejoinme.org/GraceCenterCelebrate10.

More information about The Grace Center may found at https://lifebridgenorthshore.org/gracecenter/

Joann MacKenzie may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or jomackenzie@gloucestertimes.com.

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