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Westside Community Center has a tradition of giving 

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click to enlarge Community dance lessons form connections. - PATIENCE KABWASA
  • Patience Kabwasa
  • Community dance lessons form connections.

This is the third part in our series on the city’s vibrant community centers.

There’s something about the Westside that’s not always easy to put into words but just draws me. It’s a beautiful Thursday afternoon and although we’re deep into fall, the mildly warm temperatures and gentle breeze remind me of summer.

Tucked away on a quiet street, inside the gym of the Westside Community Center, people are heating things up in a country line dancing class.

For Manitou Springs resident and volunteer teaching instructor Hong Yu Preiss, dancing and helping others just runs in the family. It’s something she loves to do.

Hong Yu, an educator originally from Shanghai, China, moved to New York to continue her education in the ’80s. It was there that she met future husband Scott Preiss, an Olympic table tennis coach, whose career brought the couple to Colorado in 1989.

Some years later, while she taught Mandarin and Chinese through Colorado Springs School District 11’s community education programs, her mother moved from China to Colorado to help with the couple’s then-young boys. Although her mother didn’t speak English, the long-time dancer found solace at the Westside Community Center.
“I was looking for things for my mother to do and dance is how she connected with people,” Hong Yu says.

From that initial connection, the Preiss family grew strong bonds with the center and its people. Hong Yu, who gives both time and money to the line dancing class she teaches, also invests in a couple different workshops annually. She’s very mindful about keeping her skills up so she can share them with her community.

She believes the community center provides a place for people, especially seniors, who might otherwise feel isolated and alone. “I’m so blessed,” she says. “We’re a family ... if one of us has surgery we all check on each other to make sure the [other] is OK.”

Nancy Lindley, a Manitou native, has attended the community center for the last 12 years and says it was the line dancing class that drew her there. “There is so much socialization that a lot of older people need,” she says.

Nancy says the community center doesn’t just cater to seniors; there are a wide variety of children’s programs, pickleball, a jewelry-making class, a French class, a food pantry, a community garden, cooking classes and more. “I know there [are] a lot of people who depend on the community center for their friendships,” she adds.

The structure of Westside Community Center echoes the connection that people at the center feel, she notes. While the city solely runs the Springs’ other 
community centers, it partners with Woodmen Valley Chapel here.

In 2010, when all of the city’s community centers were facing the threat of closure, the church stepped forward through their A.C.T.S. (a call to serve) ministry to propose managing Westside’s operations. The city granted them the contract.

In 2017, the center served 72,500 people, says Tracie Dear, the center’s assistant director. Tracie says a group of anonymous individual donors match what Woodmen Valley gives.

“I think the city was able to save the other community centers because we went into partnership with Woodmen,” Tracie says.

The church stays active in programming at the center. For instance, every December they host “Gifts of Love,” working with schools in the area to identify families who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford gifts for each other at Christmas. The program gives parents and children a chance to shop for and wrap presents for each other. In October, the church also facilitated a Fall Festival, giving kids a fun opportunity to dress up in their costumes, play games and get candy.

Since the partnership began, Westside Community Center has been able expand and now offers services in three different buildings along an entire city block from 1616 to 1628 W. Bijou St. The old Buena Vista Elementary school now serves as rented office space for other community organizations such as COSILoveYou, Diakonia Preschool and Westside Oaks Church. The center has served as an event space for baby showers in the past and Tracie says she hopes to get into the wedding market in the future to generate revenue for programs.

What an example of how far and wide innovative collaboration can reach.

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