Jason Clemons inside the still-under-construction Pax Center in La Porte. Staff photo by Matt Fritz
Jason Clemons inside the still-under-construction Pax Center in La Porte. Staff photo by Matt Fritz
La PORTE — In Latin, its name means "peace."

Peace of mind for the hungry when they're searching for food, or for the jobless when they're looking for employment. And even peace of mind for the lonely, when they're searching for someone to talk to.

That's because when it opens later this year, the Pax Center, a community building located at 605 Washington St. in La Porte, is scheduled to offer a food pantry, community resource center and other activities to the public. But organizers are hoping with the help of the community, the 3,700 square-foot space, formerly known as Friends Restaurant & Nightclub, will become so much more.

"I'm asking the community and everybody involved to dream," said center director Jason Clemons. "What could this place be?"

Clemons, who is also the community director at State Street Community Church, described the Pax Center as the visionary partner of the church. The building was donated to the church earlier in 2014, and State Street has plans to expand its food pantry there while also opening a community resource center with computers for job searching and resume help.

"We just have a comfortable space for people to connect, search for jobs," he said. "The idea is to offer resume training, maybe work with area groups already doing things for job placement. This could be a place where people could sign up for unemployment or their food stamps."

He said the computers have already been donated and plans are in the works to offer the resource center five or seven days a week.

But Clemons said the church really wants the facility to become a true community center, with several area organizations using it for different purposes. To this end, State Street is searching for partners, whether they be area churches or area community groups, to collaborate with.

"If something's going on 24/7 in this building, we'll be very excited," he said, "because that's the idea."

In speaking with community leaders, he said one of the perceived needs in the area is for a homeless shelter. Such a use would be a dream at this point, he said, because State Street couldn't do it all on its own. It could do something, however, like Michigan City, where the shelter is handled by different organizations on different nights. The difference with La Porte would be the shelter's location. It would always be at the Pax Center. A different group or agency would just be running it each evening, with State Street handling one of the nights. Such an initiative would probably run from October to March.

He said laundry and shower facilities could also be made available for the homeless.

Clemons said the Pax Center can seat 125 people and has ample space for other uses. The open walls can accommodate large pieces of art from area painters and artists, and a stage and sound system will be available for bands, dance groups and other performers. Seminars and meetings could also be held there.

"We want this to be a place of local culture where everyone feels welcome," he said.

There is also a commercial kitchen, which he said can be rented out at a low cost to area entrepreneurs who want to start a commercial baking business but lack the proper facility. To be commercially sold, baked goods have to prepared in a commercial kitchen.

There are also a couple of small offices available for community use. Clemons said the church already works with Swanson Center and its PATH Grant to find housing and work opportunities for the homeless. These spaces could be made available to Swanson or another agency. He said some La Porte residents won't travel to Michigan City for services due to the distance, so having this local option could increase the number of people an organization can reach.

Clemons said Pax Center organizers are still looking for donations. The center needs about $5,000 to finish renovations, and will have an operating expense of about $1,500 a month for heating, cooling, insurance, maintenance and other needs. The center won't open until at least six months of operating expenses are covered. Grants are being written to cover some of the costs.

Clemons said his work for the center is covered under his current salary for State Street.

But he said more than anything, organizers are looking for partners. Clemons said State Street has set up a board of directors to handle the center during its infancy stage, but hopes to soon have a board made up of people from across the community.

"This is a place where we can dream and hope and not have a whole lot of stipulations and red tape to do something of the type the community wants to do," he said. "A place that isn't too expensive, that the community can come to and be together."

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