Israel Baptist Church Builds Life Learning Center

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By K. Levek

Israel Manor development breaks ground
Israel Manor development breaks ground

There is a growing population of Washington, D.C. residents who are in constant search of medical care. Their constant search is further fuelled by their lack of employment and lack of the necessary health care needed to keep them healthy. A new facility will soon open in the Ward 5 neighborhood of Brentwood to help satisfy this need.

Ward 5’s Israel Baptist Church is building a new 42,000 sq. ft. life-learning center. The center, which is under the church’s non-profit- Israel Manor Incorporated or IMI- will be called the IMI Life Learning Center and is scheduled to open by the end of 2014. On February 11, 2014, the project held its groundbreaking with all community partners in the project present to witness the action.

The center will be a three-level facility and will house Unity Health Center on the first two floors as the facility’s tenant for the first 21 years of operation. The third level of the facility will be a multipurpose space that the church will use to hold operate various programming and community functions. The third floor will have office space for the non-profit to operate out of and will be open to the community to use the space for basketball games, banquets, weddings, gospel concerts and activities of the like for a nominal fee. Community meetings and non-profit meetings will be able to use the facility free of charge, but fundraisers will have an associated fee.

Rev. Dr. Morris Shearin serves as Senior Pastor of Israel Baptist and he said this life-learning center has long been in his vision. “This center is apart of my ministry and mission and I brought it to this church.” Shearin, a native of North Carolina, was the former pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Lewiston, NC. While there he remodeled the church, adding a major edition to the small frame that was there when he took over as pastor. When he assumed the pastor ship the church had 10 years pay off the remaining mortgage and under Shearin’s leadership he paid off the mortgage in 2 years and 10 months.

Unity Health Care
Unity Health Care

So he knows a bit about building from ground up and that same vision and tenacity he had in North Carolina, he brought to Israel when he assumed leadership. He said, “We started out wanting to do a community center, but as we continued in that development I got sick and had to go to Houston, TX for cancer treatment. While there, I got to see a life-learning center that was functioning with a different programming.” He brought that experience back to Israel and began to reshape his vision for the community center into a life-learning center.

IMI held community meetings at the church and asked local community organizations to come out and share what they were doing in the Ward 5 community. One of the organizations that came out was Unity Heath Care. At the time Shearin says he didn’t know how they could partner, but as he thought about the talents in his church and the mission of Unity Health Care, he knew a partnership was in the near future.

Unity Health Care is committed to “promoting healthier communities through compassion and comprehensive health and human services, regardless of ability to pay.” Pastor Shearin said, “It’s such a blessing from God that we met up with Unity Health Care. Because of our agreement to work under the same facility, the District’s Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) has given our facility the distinction of a clinic in the Ward 5 community.” He is especially proud of that distinction and understands this is the first step in his vision and the Unity’s commitment to providing adequate health services in the area.

Along with Unity occupying the building, Shearin says that his membership is comprised of a large amount of retired health professionals, who are eager about Unity and have already shown commitment to health services. “Even before Unity was on board, our church as been serving the greater Ward 5 community by holding various community health screenings throughout the year. So it has always been our church’s mission to serve our community in the health-related field.”

Pastor Shearin says the partnership with Unity was unique in that Unity’s President and CEO, Vincent A. Keane, is a former Catholic priest, who has dedicated himself to the issue of health care for the District’s homeless population. “I must say this has been a Christian process because the first person we worked with was a Christian and the president and CEO of Unity is a Christian,” said Sherain. The first prospective tenant IMI worked with was the Christian Community Credit Union out of Covena, California.

Although the deal with the bank fell through Unity stepped in and has been on board since, which has helped the project secure the necessary funding for such a large building. The project, which was incepted during former Mayor Anthony Williams tenure has moved slowly, but a new development team, District Development Group (DDG) led by Phins Jones and Andy Botticello has helped moved the project along.

DDG was instrumental in helping the project secure it’s critical funding through New Market Tax Credits (NMTC), a program established in 2000 that provides tax credit incentives to investors who invest in low-income communities. The IMI project qualified for this and Jones and Botticello sought to garner that funding. They also reached out to the District’s Department of Housing and Community Development who has provided Block Grant Funding for the project and the District’s Department of Health [Unity Healthcare].

Sherain said, “All the pieces have come together and I am awaiting the building to be finished and we move in.” Next on the horizon for Shearin is a book. He said, “There’s a book in me and the reason I know is because I didn’t write it yet.”

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