Fresno is about to see the fruits of the smartest thing it’s ever done for people in need.
The old Sierra Hospital is now the Fresno Mission City Center, a soon-to-be seven-building, 165,000-square-foot campus on nine acres in the exact center of Fresno.
The site at 2025 E. Dakota Avenue is the new home of the faith-based group that used to call itself the Fresno Rescue Mission. The campus not only will enable Fresno Mission to expand its longtime dedicated efforts to help children and families experiencing trauma or homelessness and those fighting substance abuse, it also will house 20 other nonprofits.
In Mendota, the concept has been tested and proven on a smaller scale. The nonprofit Alliance for Medical Outreach and Relief built a facility there that delivers healthcare and provides a hub for government agencies and nonprofits to deliver comprehensive wraparound social and youth services.
Watch: What City Leaders Say About Fresno Mission City Center
Will Serve the Many Thousands Needing Help
Fresno Mission’s bold vision has the potential to lift up tens of thousands of Fresnans who struggle for food to eat, find medical and mental health care, or enroll a child in school that offers the right fit. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need everyone rowing in the same direction to conquer big challenges.
I’m betting that Fresno Mission CEO Matt Dildine and the dozens of other nonprofit leaders realize their goal. Fresno Mission already has raised $26 million of the $30 million needed to renovate the building and construct residences for homeless families and foster youth.
It’s at the perfect location — what Dildine called “ground zero” for homeless people and human trafficking. It has the backing of Mayor Jerry Dyer, the councilmember of the district where the campus is located, Nelson Esparza, and the surrounding neighborhoods. The new ideas for delivering services to the people who need them are cutting-edge and influenced by the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What will be taking place on this campus will change the hearts and lives of people,” said Dyer, “and will ultimately change the face of our community for decades to come.”
“Give the Best to People Who Sometimes Feel Like the Least’
As Dildine emphasized throughout an hour-long news conference unveiling the campus Friday, the result will be a campus that sparkles and boasts amenities that would impress anyone — not just those down on their luck or placed in harm’s way.
Thus the parking lot will become a community park hosting concerts, food truck nights, and other events. Plans call for a “Boys and Girls Club-type” homework center and gym. Aspen Ridge charter school already is open for 134 students in grades 7 through 9 on the campus. High school grades will be added one year at a time until it is a 7-12 school with a 450 student capacity.
The Central California Food Bank is open there, too, and serving the hungry. People schedule a time online to pick out the groceries they need. When the campus is completed next year, there will be a 3,000 square-foot grocery store operated by the food bank.
“When people come here, they’re going to know that people care about them,” Dildine said. “We want to give the absolute best for the people who sometimes feel like the least. … We want to have the best campus in Fresno.”
Out of Busted Dreams Spring Hope and Opportunity
Years ago, developer Ed Kashian and then Fresno City Councilmember Henry R. Perea wanted to turn the former hospital into a senior center serving the entire city. That dream never materialized — not even with the headquarters of the Fresno-Madera Area Agency on Aging there.
And, if all had gone according to the original plan, Fresno Mission would have bought downtown properties to expand and to absorb the loss of land to High-Speed Rail. But acquisition costs were prohibitive. When the opportunity to purchase the East Dakota location for $2.5 million arose, Fresno Mission pounced.
Even the best of projects can get stalled in City Hall’s bureaucracy. That won’t be the case this time, Dyer said. Inspections, permits, and plan checks will all be expedited.
“They’ll get concierge service,” the mayor promised.
So will the people who come through the campus doors. They’ll know that they’re not alone nor forgotten.
The concept driving Fresno Mission City Center is exactly what our community needs. For once, we’re ahead of the nation. That’s a very good thing, indeed.