St. Joseph Center — which provides services to 6,000 working poor and homeless people each year — unveiled its new 30,000-square-foot facility at a dedication ceremony September 18th.

After just over a year and a half of construction, the center on Hampton Drive is officially open.

The building itself is in the Venice community of Los Angeles and the parking lot is in Santa Monica, but the facility is also in the Coastal Zone and subject to the jurisdiction of the California Coastal Commission, said Norma Apoian, the director of project development and construction.

“It’s one of the most complex buildings we have,” added Apoian.

The new facility houses five of St. Joseph Center’s programs under one roof — as well as its administrative offices — which allows for closer coordination among programs.

The programs at the new facility include the Family Center and Food Pantry, the Early Learning Center, Senior Services, Affordable Housing and the Culinary Training Program.

Operations actually began at the new facility in June, although the official dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony were held September 18th.

While the new building was under construction, the administrative offices, the Family Center and Food Pantry and Senior Services were housed at a temporary location at Pico Boulevard and Fourth Street and the Early Learning Center was in a temporary location at Fourth Street and Ashland Avenue.

The Culinary Training Program was formerly at the Bread and Roses CafÈ in Venice in the afternoon, and Affordable Housing was based at the St. Joseph Homeless Service Center at 404 Lincoln Blvd.

St. Joseph Center’s old building, which was demolished in 2006 to make way for the new facility, was formerly the St. Clement School, so staff worked in — and programs were held in — what had been small classrooms.

From 11,000 square feet, the facility has nearly tripled in size, and the larger size makes it a “better environment to help humanity,” said Apoian. “It was a huge undertaking.”

Many who went along for the journey spoke at the dedication.

“This has been quite a challenging, long road,” said Steven Hilton, co-chair of the St. Joseph Center fundraising committee. “It’s been eight years — a long, long time. This is one of those miracles that started with an idea.”

Former St. Joseph Center executive director Rhonda Meister — who was very involved with the process and is currently on the fundraising committee — agreed.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “It’s beautiful. I’m so pleased our clients and staff have this kind of space after all those years in classrooms. I’m incredibly proud of how it turned out.”

The dedication also brought city officials, their representatives, board members, donors and community leaders.

“I’m glad to be a partner in this project,” said Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl at the dedication, thanking many involved in the process. “This has been just fabulous.”

Santa Monica Mayor Pro Tem Richard Bloom said the new facility “really speaks of the collaborative effort” of people and communities working together. “You can feel the economy teetering as we speak. We know that as difficult a problem it is today, poverty is going to get worse.”

Bloom also predicted that many veterans returning home from Iraq “are going to end up on our streets.”

Flora Gil Krisiloff from the office of County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Jessica Duboff from the office of Congresswoman Jane Harman and Veronica Zendejas from the office of State Senator Jenny Oropeza also spoke at the dedication, presenting certificates of commendation.

“This is just great,” said Zendejas, a senior district representative for Oropeza. “Your center is an integral part of Venice and the surrounding community.”

A Culinary Training Program graduate, Rabia Nabahani, spoke about how St. Joseph Center had changed her life.

“I’m living proof that this program does work,” said Nabahani, who had previously worked in the travel industry and was laid off in 2002. “I’ve always wanted to be a chef. I came in and joined the program. I was so encouraged and so inspired.

“Ever since then, my life has changed.”

Nabahani now works as a chef and is pursuing a culinary degree at Cal State Long Beach.

She is one of the many thousands that St. Joseph Center has helped since 1978, its mission always to provide poor families, as well as homeless men, women and children of all ages, with the inner resources and tools to become productive, stable and self-supporting members of the community.

“I am committed to continuing the legacy whose foundation was started by the Sisters [of St. Joseph] and furthered by Rhonda [Meister],” said Va Lecia Adams, executive director of St. Joseph Center, at the dedication. “The new vision for St. Joseph Center is one of program enhancement which emphasizes prevention, intervention and educational services in this wonderful state-of-the-art facility.

“The new building allows for the integration and continuity of services that are so critical to the success of low income and homeless individuals.

“As I walk through this facility, I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of the legacy that I have become a part of.”

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