COEUR d'ALENE - After 10 years, welcome to town - officially.
The Union Gospel Mission's center for women and children opened in grand fashion Wednesday, ushering in a new era for recovery programs in Coeur d'Alene.
It wasn't easy work, and it took a while to get here.
A decade to be exact.
That's when the idea to expand to Kootenai County first popped up at UGM's office in Spokane, Director Phil Altmeyer remembered, but that was just a seat-of-the pants idea way back when.
"We got a lot on our plate here," said Altmeyer, addressing the hundreds who attended the center's ribbon cutting ceremony, on what he recalls thinking at the time.
But then the USG team members asked themselves: "What would God have us do?"
"That's when Kootenai County entered the map," he said.
The $8.5 million project, funded through private donations, and with the help of a $1.8 million tax credit, is officially open. A transitional housing and recovery center for women with substance abuse problems, the one-of-a-kind, faith-based program offers dozens of beds for women and their children, as well as educational and other services including doctor, dental and eye clinics.
And the benefits are lifesaving.
"It's like trying to describe red to the one person who has never seen color," said Rebecca Bender, a resident from USG's Anna Ogden Hall women's center, trying to put into words the difference in her life before and after she entered the program.
Raised with a traumatic childhood, enduring an abusive marriage and suffering from chronic diseases, Bender tried to kill herself before she joined the recovery program.
It taught her, she said, to look at life differently - which saved her life, as well as her children's.
"No longer was I a victim of life," she said. "But a survivor with a future."
Wednesday's ceremony was marked with guest speakers, music, prayer and the traditional ribbon cutting, with officials and nonprofit representatives taking part. Hundreds crammed inside the otherwise spacious building sitting on a 2.7-acre lot off Haycraft Avenue. It was so crowded, a video feed of the ceremonial speakers had to be played in the kitchen for those who couldn't fit into the auditorium where the ceremony was held.
All for what started as a wild idea.
"What sounded impossible 10 years ago, is now our reality," said JoAnn Zajicek, director with UGM. "It's not going to be long before we find women and children who find refuge in these walls."
While the mission has been in Spokane since 1951, the Coeur d'Alene center marks UGM's inaugural expansion into Kootenai County. A move Altmeyer, director for 26 years, couldn't predict at the beginning.
"I never would have dreamed 26 years later we'd be here today," he said.
GABE GREEN/Press The new Union Gospel Mission Women's and Children's Center was officially opened Wednesday afternoon. During the dedication ceremony Rebecca Bender shared some words with the audience about her experience as a women's recovery resident at UGM.