Lives and stories worth saving

Union Gospel Mission Center breaks ground

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JEROME A. POLLOS/Press Idaho First Lady Lori Otter talks about the importance communities providing resources for those in need Thursday at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Union Gospel Mission Center for Women and Children in Coeur d'Alene.

COEUR d'ALENE - Heather Heinitz knows what stories will be told once the area's newest rehabilitation center is developed one year from now.

Heinitz, a 2010 graduate of the Union Gospel Mission's Spokane-based Anna Ogden Hall women's center, knows how much the faith-based facility will help women and children in Kootenai County - and how those tales of redemption sound.

"Today is monumental," Heinitz said Thursday at the groundbreaking ceremony for North Idaho's first UGM center, set to open at the 2.7-acre lot off Haycraft Avenue north of Appleway Avenue in July 2012. "I wish you could feel what I do ... The extent of the lives that will change."

For Heinitz, the stability and faith the center provided helped turn her life from "chaotic" to pursing a communications degree at Spokane Community College, with plans to transfer to Eastern Washington University.

Now it's time for the stories to happen here, she told nearly 100 people who attended the ceremony to welcome UGM across the state line.

The center will offer women and children in need of help 35 beds for shelter, 30 beds for a crisis center, and other services including doctor, dental and eye clinics, as the families get back on their feet.

Though UGM is unique to Coeur d'Alene, its mission is already a perfect fit for what's here, local officials said.

"This is such a wonderful, loving network of nonprofits in this area," said Jeff Conroy, St. Vincent de Paul executive director. "I'm excited to see Union Gospel Mission part of the team."

On hand for the ceremony, which included music, refreshments, and the traditional shovel dig and dirt toss, were several local mayors and Idaho first lady Lori Otter.

The roughly $6.5 million project is being privately funded. It still needs around $2 million, which Debi Pauletta, UGM director of advancement, said the organization hopes to raise through local donations and private grants.

She said they're optimistic the money will be raised by next year's grand opening. Looking at the large turnout Thursday afternoon, evidence of support is already there.

"We have 60 years of operating on faith," she said.

Last July, UGM was granted the building permit from Coeur d'Alene. This year it broke ground and next July its doors open. And when they do, there will be more stories like the one from Heinitz.

"There are a lot of people excited about this," said Phil Altmeyer, leading the ceremony from the center of the plot where the dining hall will be. UGM had been eyeing a move to Coeur d'Alene for five years. "It's been a long time coming."

The mission has been in Spokane since 1951.

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