North Lansing Community Center Serves Families for Nearly 50 Years

Sep 25, 2017

The Cristo Rey Community Center started in 1968 to help out Hispanics on Lansing's north side but now it's helping families of all types with everything from food to health services to counseling and much more.

North of Old Town Lansing stands a 2-story brick school building that draws families by bus or by the car load for help and for hope.

Nearly 30 years ago, Cristo Rey Community Center took over the former High Street Elementary School building. At the time, it helped the residents living nearby who were then mostly Catholic and mostly Hispanic.

Now, the neighborhood is more diverse as well as the center's clients.

"There’s no prerequisites to care," said Cristo Rey community center Executive Director Joseph Garcia. "If you need help, you’re going to get it, plain and simple."

Garcia became a volunteer helping write resumes in 1991. Four years ago, he left a successful Fortune 500 career to lead Cristo Rey. On this day, he took me on a tour of the building. Families can attend counseling services or financial classes on the top floor.

Shelves of food inside Cristo Rey Community Center in Lansing.
Credit Reginald Hardwick / WKAR Public Media

On the first floor, Garcia took me into a former classroom housing industrial size freezers and shelves of canned and boxed foods.

"We get calls all the time – folks that say hey 'I’m not concerned about myself but I don’t have anything I can feed my kids with today'," said Garcia.

Garcia said Cristo Rey provided more than 200,000 pounds of food from this pantry last year. 

Another former classroom has racks of donated clothes ripe for the picking.

Down the hallway is a clinic, designed to see individuals and families regardless of whether they have insurance or not.

Doctors and nurses see at least 50 patients a week at Cristo Rey's health clinic.

Inside clinic examination room for children at Cristo Rey Community Center.
Credit Reginald Hardwick / WKAR Public Media

Pediatrician Dr. Aimee Leisure Martins said it's rewarding to work with a population that rarely gets the best medical attention.

"Health care during your younger years can influence the rest of your life," said Dr. Leisure Martins. "I feel pretty fortunate to be able to educate families about preventative medicine and diagnosing things early."

Nurse practicioner Rochelle Rein said having so many services under one roof helps struggling families.

"Being at the community center, we can help then get food, clothing, counseling, prescription assistance kind of other things that are not directly medical but can really help their health," said Rein. 

But it comes at a cost.

"Medicaid and medicare the reimbursement levels are half what commercial insurance are so its very difficult for us to stay afloat that’s why it requires us a good amount of fundraising to keep the doors open," said Garcia. 

Cristo Rey Community Center executive director Joseph Garcia.
Credit Reginald Hardwick / WKAR Public Media

Helping families runs deep for Garcia, who said someone helped his father, an immigrant from Mexico who came to Michigan decades ago. 

"For our own particular family was incredible turning point, changed everything for us," said Garcia.

He said one opportunity can affect generations of one family.

"I’m absolutely living proof. You’ll hear folks will say first generation to go to college. My family – we’re the first generation to go to middle school in our own family tree. And [now] I have an MBA. [Master's degree in Business Administration]