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MRC Celebrates 120 Years of Caring

As far as founding stories goes, the Mattie Rhodes Center has one that stretches back 120 years. Mattie Florence Rhodes was a teenager who worked with underprivileged members of the community through her church group the Little Gleaners. She died in 1890 from typhoid fever. She left a legacy of $500 for her friends to continue the work they had started.

The society honored her wishes in 1894 when the center that bears her name was created. Over the years, the center’s mission has grown from providing day care and financial assistance to single mothers in poverty to a holistic approach that provides a variety of services to the community.

In recognition of the milestone, the center will celebrate with a special benefit banquet on October 23, 2014 at the Kansas City Downtown Marriott Hotel. Primetime reporter John Quiñones will be the featured speaker. The banquet has garnered support from a broad array of business and civic organizations.

According to Mattie Rhodes’ website, the organization’s mission “is to enrich the lives of individuals, families, and communities, in a respectful, multicultural environment. MRC accomplishes this mission through targeted services such as youth services via in-school intervention, youth development and supportive living; through community support providing health and wellness programs and community engagement; through cultural arts programs including arts education, exhibitions and collections and family service and support in the areas of mental health, domestic violence and substance abuse.

John Fierro, CEO and executive director of the agency, talked recently with Hispanic News about the center’s work and its evolution in the years since its founding.

According to Fierro, “Mattie Rhodes Center wants to be more focused on balancing out the support for individuals living in poverty, to not only include individual services but also to focus more on the community and its physical environment. The one big challenge I see is changing the framework we have been working within. A big part of MRC is our social work that we provide to the community and a lot of that support relies on individuals to come into our building and receive counseling and case management services.”

The evolving demands of a constantly changing demographic, has led to a shift in focus for the organization.

“It is very one on one and focused on the family and now we are starting to look again at a holistic approach – on impacting the neighborhood and having the staff and our board to understand the importance of that,” explained Fierro, “but it is also going to be a new thing. We are now going to be a lot more visible and vocal out in the community, whereas in the past we have been a little quieter because … we certainly don’t want to draw attention to people coming into our building, but now we are going to be more externally focused as well.”

The change in focus is going to require a significant investment something Fierro notes is tough for all social services agencies to accommodate.

“Mattie Rhodes has had tremendous growth. Sixteen years ago we had 12 employees and today we have 45. Sixteen years ago we operated primarily from the Westside neighborhood,” said Fierro. “We are now in the Argentine neighborhood of Wyandotte County in Kansas City, Kansas as well as a historic part Northeast neighborhood of Kansas City, Missouri. The challenge we face is trying to sustain the resources necessary to meet the needs of the communities that we are in.”

Fierro added that the center not only serves Latinos but a broader community. “The ethnic populations have changed over time. The geographic areas we work in have changed and for the last 30 years it has been the Hispanic and Spanish speaking population that we have served. However we have seen other populations that fit that category of living in property that we serve and we don’t turn them away because they are not Latino or are not Spanish speaking. “

In his eight years as director, Fierro is proud that “we continue to be a support for individuals, families and communities. … I think my proudest moment is knowing that we have been able to sustain our organization when the community has needed us.”

Fierro wants people to keep in mind “that they really can embrace Mattie Rhodes Center as a community builder. There are not a lot of organizations in the metropolitan area that can say they have been around for 120 years. … That means we have weathered four different wars. We have been through two different depression eras and the IT revolution and we are still standing. … It says a lot and speaks to the fact that this organization has been very resilient.

The other thing I want people to walk away with is an understanding of what is Mattie Rhodes today. We are truly more than a direct service provider. We are an advocate. We are a community builder. We are a convener. We are an incubator. We play different roles. … The common vision in everything we do is to create a healthy and safe environment where all individuals reach their full potential. At the end of the day … we want to create a better place for everyone to live.”

For more information about Mattie Rhodes center and the banquet call or visit www.mattierhodes.org