For more than two decades, the Catholic Enrichment Center, on the busy corner of West Broadway and 31st Street, has been welcoming the West End community like a “great aunt” — always there when she is needed.
The center, known as the CEC, is an extension of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Multicultural Ministry. It offers a wide range of academic, cultural and life-skills programs for senior citizens, children and families. It’s celebrating its 21st anniversary this spring and hosting a celebration April 22.
Audrey Penman, who has served at the CEC for 15 years, said the center has been there for people in a variety of ways and as a result, a great partnership has been forged with the community.
“It’s like a great aunt. Even if you don’t see her all the time, you know she’s there when you need her,” said Penman in a recent interview. “People stop in to make copies, use the computer, ask for bus fare or a mask. It’s a safe place to come and find information.”
The pandemic has forced the center to do things differently. For one thing, the anniversary was supposed to be celebrated in 2020 — to mark an even two decades.
More significantly, it’s affected day-to-day operations, such as moving the Dare to Care grocery pickup outdoors and limiting the number of participants in programs, said Penman.
The pandemic may have affected activities at the center but it hasn’t changed what the center means to the community, she said.
“Sometimes people need different things at different times — food, a bus pass or information on how to get a drivers’ license. It’s important for people to have somewhere in their community they feel comfortable going to get good answers,” said Penman.
Annette Mandley-Turner, executive director of the Office of Multicultural Ministry, said the CEC was born out of the need to provide “holistic” care to families in the West End.
With the help of a survey prior to the center’s opening, her office heard the West End community express a need for a space that provided “holistic development that would take care of cultural and academic needs and outreach,” said Mandley-Turner.
“What we heard is that we had to take care of the whole family. We had to provide service to young mothers and fathers all the way up to the grandparents,” she said.
With this in mind, over the years the center has provided offerings for all ages.
The CEC sits next to St. Martin de Porres Church in the former Holy Cross School. The center makes use of the building’s three floors: The Thea Bowman Hall located in the basement, the first floor and the second floor, which houses the “St. Jude Life Skills Unit” — a space Mandley-Turner said came out of the need for the community to “get back to extended family and family values.”
The St. Jude Life Skills Unit consists of a kitchen where families are taught how to prepare healthy meals using food from the Dare to Care food pantry. The unit also has a living room where families spend time together plus music and conference rooms.
The CEC also offers computer classes for youth and senior citizens, dance classes, spring break camp for children, a Camp Africa summer camp for children and workshops on subjects ranging from budgeting and financing to wills and trusts and, most recently, teleconferences on how to apply for unemployment benefits, said Penman.
The center’s staff is discussing ways to host the Camp Africa summer camp safely this year, added Penman, who has led the center for the last six years.
Mandley-Turner said everything offered at the CEC is funded through the budget of the Office of Multicultural Ministry, an agency of the Archdiocese of Louisville.
“No way would this be possible if it wasn’t for the commitment on the part of the archdiocese to support African American ministries,” said Mandley-Turner. “They value this and see a great need for it and their commitment is reflected in the budget.”
Looking to the future, Mandley-Turner said the center plans to increase its offerings to meet evolving needs.
“We recognize the West End is going through gentrification. At first, people were very concerned they’d lose their home,” she said. “We want to be a part of the development. We’ve held workshops to help people understand” the changes taking place.
Mandley-Turner said the center plans to increase tutoring services and services to adults who want to return to school, provide more intergenerational events and offer support for fathers raising children and individuals caring for aging parents.
She also expects the center to become more involved with addressing racial tension.
“We see ourselves more involved with that. There are a number of groups who want to come to the CEC to have those conversations,” she said.
At the center’s anniversary celebration today, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz and other dignitaries are expected to be in attendance.
The center is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., on Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. To learn more about the center and the programs it offers, call 776-0262.